You can have politics, and you can have polytheism, and you can have them both together; but, it is folly to mistake politics as polytheism.
The term “politics”, to be very brief, has to do with the day-to-day governance of human activities and human-to-human relationships. The term “polytheism” has to do with the religious regard of many gods as individuals—which is more of the realm of deity-and-human relationships. Politics and polytheism are two different categories, different needs, and different focuses.
Were a person to claim that “geological polytheism” is the same as just plain polytheism and that geological polytheism is a part of the definition of polytheism itself, it is like mistaking a t-shirt—a type of clothing—as the definition of clothing, when the category of “clothing” includes much more than just t-shirts: kilts, saris, jeans, and hats decorated with cheese made out of foam. There are hierarchical arrangements in categories, moving from general categories into more specific ones. Moving from general to specific helps us to understand things and the relationships between things. Only by preserving an understanding these differences can a person then begin to understand how these things can work separately and how these things could also work together. A person can study geology all on its own, without even knowing anything about polytheism. A person can honor polytheism all on its own without ever knowing anything about geology. A person could also honor the individuality of the deities (i.e. polytheism) through the addition of religious respect for geological strata, and say that this is a type of polytheism. But, but a person cannot claim that geological polytheism is just plain polytheism and that anyone who wants to be a polytheist must also first be a geologist.
Large categories have within them various overlaps with other large categories, but large categories can also have different expressions within them. Those different expressions within them can be completely encompassed by the larger category (like a large bubble surrounding small bubbles inside of it), or not completely encompassed by the larger category (like a smaller bubble attached to and partially inside of the larger bubble, but not completely inside the larger bubble). But, in order to understand how the bubbles relate to one another and how they are attached or unattached, to understand how different things relate and interact with one another, you have to recognize from the beginning that you are indeed working with different bubbles. You cannot see the relationship, or the potential for relationship, between things if you don’t realize that they are different things and if you don’t recognize where those boundaries are.
Polytheism in and of itself has nothing to do with politics. Polytheism is not a theocracy. Polytheism is not a democracy. Polytheism is not anarchy. Polytheism is not socialism. Polytheism is not communism. (And…systems of government are not necessarily the same as economic systems, although they can support or not support any economic system.) You do not have to adhere to any particular politics or economic systems in order to be a “real” polytheist. All you have to do is religiously regard the deities as many and individual. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Polytheism isn’t focused on human-to-human relations or the governing of people.
Can polytheism be expressed through and with other things like politics? Sure it can, just as you can have tea straight up and black, or you can have tea with milk or tea with lemon. But polytheism, straight up as a category on its own, is not these things any more than the tea is the same as the lemon or the milk that goes into it. That would be “tea with lemon” or “tea with milk” even as you would have “polytheism with [insert political or economic philosophy here].” A person would also do well to remember that tea cannot support the addition of lemon and milk because the acidic properties of lemon and tea combined will cause milk to curdle, so it helps greatly to know the properties of different things and how they interact. All that these polytheistic religions have to have in common to be considered “polytheistic” is the religious regard for the individuality of many deities.
Although you can express polytheism and politics together, there is a breaking point where these two things will not work together. That breaking point arises when a person forcibly imposes human-centric models and modes of interacting in relationships, such as what is seen in politics, onto the deities and the deities’ interactions. Deities aren’t humans. Forcibly imposing human-centric expectations and modes of interactions on the deities is not only counterproductive in deity-and-human relations, it also runs the risk of curtailing the deities’ individuality and personal sovereignty. At the point when the individuality of the deities is ignored and overridden by a religion (or a person), that’s the point where the religion (or person) can no longer uphold the religious regard for the many deities, and cannot be described as polytheistic even if the religion (or person) still gives lip-service to the ideals of the deities’ individuality.
Some deities and some sets of deities may have opinions on the matters of human governance, and some ancestral ways may have some set traditions in this matter—but this is a matter for those people in those relationships and in those polytheistic religions. When this sort of thing happens, then the mode of governance (human-to-human) relations becomes also an expression of deity-to-human relations. This is a matter of deities operating within their executive functions and expressing their individuality and sovereignty, and, as such, it is a part of polytheism especially within the context of those deities, ancestors, and/or lineages, and/or religions. At that point it is a part of polytheism because we’re seeing the religious regard for the deities by acknowledging the deities’ guidance and their preferences in these matters; we’re seeing a demonstration of how this religious regard for deities’ individuality play out. It works this way because the gods and the ancestors have rank—they are greater and wiser than we are. They can pull this rank, especially when it is necessary; and, unlike humans they are less inclined to abuse these places of rank. It is noteworthy that the reverse cannot be said if a person chooses a mode of governance (in human-to-human relationships) and forcibly projects it up the hierarchy onto the deities themselves in human-to-deity relations: this is a violation of the deities’ own freedom, rank, sovereignty, and individuality. It is a disrespect of the deities’ status, and a disrespect and misunderstanding of our own places as human beings.
The matter is further gnarled when a person not only projects their preferred human political structure up the hierarchy onto the deities, but also along the same tier of the hierarchy onto all other human beings who would want to be polytheists, making a demand that other human beings also adhere to these structures before they can be called just plain polytheists, not “polytheists + [insert preferred economic or political philosophy here]”, but just plain polytheists. This is why a person must recognize that polytheism and politics are two different things, and why any particular politics should not be confused as an intrinsic part of a definition of polytheism.
Polytheism isn’t focused and centered on human needs, or human-to-human relationships like politics are. Polytheism is about the religious regard of many gods as individuals. When we start making polytheism less about the individuality of the deities, and make it more about us, our modes of government in politics, and how we relate to each other as human beings, we start losing sight of what the focus of polytheism is.
Thank you for this… This was not only well stated, but sorely needed!
An excellent and well laid out article. Thank you.
Nor can anyone be denied their political view based on their religion. We have a variety of Pagans who claim Pagans cannot be spiritual and also political. Even our right to practice our religion, and what we believe, is controlled by political power in any society, including here in the United States where religious persecution of even minority Christianity, much less minority religions has a long history that has not yet ended.
So it works both ways. You cannot not tell a Pagan that they have to be political or that it is un Pagan to be political. It is a matter of choice and must be left to the individual. Be careful about the charges that you make and make sure they are actual and not just your perception. You have aright to ask the same, in fact to demand the same.