Articles by Julian Betkowski

Julian Betkowski

Julian Betkowski is an artist living in South Western Pennsylvania. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in psychology and is interested in examining the impact of polytheism on Contemporary American life. He describes his personal practice as Neoclassical Syncretism and believes that while religion should recognize history and tradition, it must also be capable of looking forward and adapting to modern life.

On Representation: Icon and Allegory

It is a fairly common misrepresentation of the Ancient Greek understanding of the Gods to claim that they were thought to be completely anthropomorphic in body and mind. Indeed, depending on the context, the Ancient Greeks had a wide variety of representations at their disposal, as Zaidman and Pantel (1992) describe in Religion in the Ancient Greek City:

 The Greeks employed a large number of different words for representation of the divine: xoanon, bretas, andrias, palladion, agalma, kolossos, eikon and eidolon, among others. This variety corresponds to the multiplicity of the divine in figural form. (p. 215-216)

We are simply most aware of the stately Hellenistic Period sculpture that has come to represent the entirety of Greek civilization, and so it is easier to reduce what was in fact a quite complex and varied culture to only the most dramatic examples of its plastic arts.

We may be most familiar with the naturalistic, anthropomorphic statues that decorate our museums in marble originals and plaster reproductions, but these representations do not constitute the total picture. Zaidman and Pantel (1992) continue:

 The bretas and xoanon, for example, were virtually aniconic, making no attempt at likeness. They were thought of as having dropped out of the sky, like the xoanon of Athene Polias eventually housed in the Erekthion on the Athenian Akropolis (p. 216)

Many of these aniconic representations served vital functions, and would have been quite familiar to the Ancient Greek populace, as they were used in processions, ritually dressed and bathed, and employed for various cultic purposes (Zaidman & Pantel, 1992, p. 216).

There is a further misrepresentation that occasionally pops up, suggesting that the Ancient Greeks, in an inversion of the evolution of religion narrative that is often employed to support modern monotheism, eventually progressed from a fully abstract understanding of Divine Beings and forces to a completely anthropomorphized conception. As anyone who is basically familiar with the works of Homer can attest, though, this is simply not the case:

 It is false to claim that there was a development from aniconic representation to naturalism. For in Homer the gods were already completely anthropomorphized, whereas in the Classical era, some three centuries later, pillars and stones could perform a very potent symbolic function and constitute the living heart of rituals. (Zaidman & Pantel, 1992, p. 218)

It was during the Archaic Period, after all, as well, that the production of kouroi, stylized statues of youths, abounded, “Some of these sculptures were funerary in function, being placed over the tomb of a dead man or youth; others were votive, dedicated to a god in a sanctuary” (p. 216). This form had a variety of uses, and so demonstrates the plasticity of Ancient Greek representational ideas: the same sort of sculpture could be used as a grave marker, a votive offering, and even as a dedication honoring some heroic act. However, “They were in no way likenesses of either the deceased or the dedicator, or of the recipient deity. Modelled in the form of a human body, they represented rather attributes and values of the divine” (p. 216).

We can see, then, that for the Ancient Greeks, the simple image of a man was not necessarily understood to directly portray the God that it stood in for:

 The fact that the Greeks sculpted such statues of their gods does not imply a belief that the gods were in every respect human; what the Greeks did believe was that the beauty, youth or perfect proportion of a real human body evoked qualities of the divine. (Zaidman & Pantel, 1992, p. 217)

Representations of the Gods can be understood as a sort of allegory, a means of orienting toward the Gods that places them along of continuum of familiarity and mystery. The representation is not the being-in-itself, it simply serves to direct the viewer toward an encounter:

 The special characteristic of all religious representation is to endow the divinity being figured with a presence without obscuring the fact that it is not actually there. The cultic image must at the same time be thoroughly  material – it can be touched, moved, manipulated – and yet leave no doubt that it stands for something which is not actually present. (p. 215)

We do great harm when we lift the icon out of its greater context, and consider it as an object devoid of history and use. As Zaidman and Pantel (1992) observe, “It is clearly impossible, for example, to study a statue in isolated abstraction from ritual use to which it was put” (p. 228). By doing so, we strip away the mystery of the representation, and reduce it to mere thing, taking the surface appearance of the object for the totality of its function. The icon is an icon by virtue not of its form, but of its usage and religious contextualization. The representative power of the icon does not constitute the totality of its significance.

The icon persists as a representation of only the leanest qualities of the God. Just as the portrait requires our willingness to enter into it, so too the icon requires our own willingness to seek through it an encounter. As Sargent created in Madame X a beguiling emptiness into which we flow, so too the icon provides us with a vacuous space to draw us into Divine relation.

Thus, whomever is represented in the figure of the icon is not simply present in the icon itself, but alluded to, just as a portrait presents us not with the person, but with the opportunity for encounter. As Martin Buber (1996) describes, “It is in encounter that the creation reveals its formhood; it does not pour itself into the senses that are waiting but deigns to meet those that are reaching out” (p. 77). Representations of the Divine invite us to reach out toward the Gods, to meet them in encounter, facilitated by the greater context of the religious practice that encloses us.

In order to make sense of the Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth, one needs to have an understanding of the political situation that enclosed the production and usage of the image. So too does the icon rely on its religious surroundings in order to truly speak of the Divinity toward which it points. The language of the icon is learned through the practice of religion. To those who do not gaze upon the icon seeking encounter, only the thing will manifest, no matter how beautiful the object itself, nothing of the God will emerge before their gaze. “Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing. But he stands in relation” (Buber, 1996, p. 55). Unless encounter is sought through the icon, it remains inert before our gaze.

The icon performs allegorically, perhaps informing us about some characteristics of the divine being, or associating certain qualities with divinity in general, but ultimately stands as distinct from the being toward whom it points. “Whether one speaks of God as He or It, this is never more than allegory. But when we say You to him, the unbroken truth of the world has been made word by mortal sense” (Buber, 1996, p. 147-148). The icon provokes us to recognize the You of the Deity, to stand in relation, and not to take the presence before our eyes as a complete presentation of the God.

The logic of representation, of the equation of the simulacra with the original, which is already fractured by the portrait, is completely undone by the icon, which always points to a being that dwells solely within the realm of pure presentation. Understanding the icon as a broken representation, we can say that it leads us toward encounter with a God in the realm of pure presentation, where the God emerges, becomes real in our lives. The icon, like the portrait, is an autonomous and separate creation from the original being after which it is patterned. A portrait is not understood as composing the body of the person whose features it mimics. In the same way, the icon is not, in itself, the body of the God.

The icon is a deliberately contrived gateway to encounter, however it cannot be exchanged with the encounter, or the being, the You that drifts behind it. There is no law of equivalence that can penetrate the realm of pure presentation. Just as the portrait cannot be equated to the person, its representative power will always fail, so too the icon can in no way be equated to the God. Encounter with the God, though facilitated by the icon, cannot be reduced to icon, or represented in the icon. So too the God eludes representation, abiding within pure presentation, where representation cannot penetrate.

We enter into relation to Gods, and this act is beyond representation, beyond mediation. We appear under the gaze of the Gods, and they, reflexively, appear under ours. This relation is completely exclusive, unique, and unrepeatable. There can be no equivalence or exchange, no substitution of representation for the pure presentation we encounter. Speaking You to the Gods, we place ourselves into a relation that sets both ourselves and the Gods beyond representation, and recognizes within both terms the irreducibility of pure presentation.



Buber, M. (1996). I and Thou. (W. Kaufman, trans.) New York: Touchstone. (Original work published 1970)

Zaidman, L. B., & Pantel, P. S. (1992) Religion in the Ancient Greek City. (P. Cartledge, Trans.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. (original work published 1989).


On Representation: The Frailty of Images

Portraiture is a notoriously difficult art form. The portraitist is charged with luring us into perceiving, within the It of paint and canvas, of stone or plaster or wood, a majestic You. Though this alone is the drive of any artist, to winnow down all possible forms until only the alluring It remains, an It that beguiles us over and over again into finding something like a You within it.

The essential deed of art determines the process whereby form becomes work. That which confronts me is fulfilled through the encounter through which it enters into the world of things in order to remain incessantly effective, incessantly It—but also infinitely able to become again a You, enchanting and inspiring. It becomes “incarnate”: out of the flood of spaceless and timeless presence it rises to the shore of continued existence. (Buber, 1996,p. 65-66)

The portraitist must carve out a space for a You that vibrates in tandem with, that echoes something of the style of, a You already resolved and thrumming along. The true portrait is thus an empty space, an intimate kingdom awaiting the return of its monarch – in nothingness we find You.

A portrait need not tell us anything about the person it represents. If we seek to learn about a person, gazing at a portrait will tell us very little, save that there once stood a person who, in some moment, resonated in time with this image. We should remember, though, that, just like all art, the portrait is contrived, and intended to serve a purpose. Consider the famed Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First, wherein the monarch is not only depicted much younger than her age at the time of painting, but also clutching a rainbow, and adorned in a robe embroidered with eyes and ears. The Rainbow Portrait is full up with symbolism for those who would read it, and it serves a political function. Yet, despite that, in all of its contrivance, allusion, and propagandizing, the Rainbow Portrait still presents us with the image of a woman gazing out upon us.

The setting, dress, and symbology may all speak to us if we understand their language, those elements may all answer some of our questions. Indeed, they may tell us a good deal about the position of the sitter in society, their rank, their importance, their economic status. A portrait may tell us something about the daily life of the sitter, of their most basic relation to the world around them, and yet… What the portrait truly does is ask a question, is always asking, “How am I?” Falling into the You within the It, we live the answer. While all of art beguiles in some similar fashion, with the portrait we are constantly reminded that here, in this case, a being was, not simply imagined, or deduced as some theoretical potential, but present. The better the portrait, the more forcefully the question is asked, the more intensely the confrontation between the incessant It and the enchanting You is realized through our gaze.

Touch pencil to paper; record the image of a tree. Now gaze upon your transcription. What have you recorded in your image? “I can accept it as a picture: a rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of the blue silver ground,” (Buber, 1996, p. 58). Something of the manner of the form is revealed to our gaze, a simple assemblage of form and light.

 I can overcome its uniqueness and form so rigorously that I recognize it only as an expression of the law—those laws according to which a constant opposition of forces is continually adjusted, or those laws according to which the elements mix and separate. (Buber, 1996, p. 57-58)

The tree becomes an image, a series of shapes, the expression of natural laws. It falls into representation and remains fixed there. “Throughout all of this the tree remains my object and has its place and its time span, its kind and condition,” (Buber, 1996, p. 58).

Yet, of course, it is possible for something else to occur: “it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. The power of exclusiveness has seized me,” (Buber, 1996, p. 58). Through the It, we have apprehended, suddenly, a You. “The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination; it confronts me bodily and has to deal with me as I deal with it—only differently” (Buber, 1996, p. 58). Has any of that fallen into the paper you have before you? Have your lines drawn forth a confrontation?

 Does the tree then have consciousness, similar to our own? I have no experience of that. But thinking that you have brought this off in your own case, must you again divide the indivisible? What I encounter is neither the soul of a tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself. (Buber, 1996, p. 58-59)

Have you produced an encounter? Have you transcribed it into lines on paper? Such is the portrait.

The portraitist is charged with representing the unrepresentable, for nothing of the You can be captured through the It, though the world of It is the gateway. “The It is the chrysalis, the You the butterfly. Only it is not always as if these states took turns so nearly; often it is an intricately entangled series of events that is tortuously dual,” (Buber, 1996, p. 69). The image, the portrait, oscillates before us and must always fall back into the world of It. Yet, if there is in it something of an encounter, a You may flicker through, and we will find ourselves again in relation. “All actual life is encounter,” (Buber, 1996, p. 62). The portrait presents us over and over again with an encounter, a very precise and incisive encounter.

Consider John Singer Sargent’s famous Madame X. The composition is simple, a central figure in a dark dress looks over her left shoulder. Her right hand grips the edge of a table, in her left hand she holds a fan and gathers a few folds of her dress. Her expression is vague, almost neutral, save for a slight tightness of her lips and the curve of her brow. Pause a moment, though, and examine her more thoroughly, notice the sinews of her neck, just sharp enough to cast a pale shadow, then return again to her right hand and notice its position, and the twist of the arm. Stand up and replicate the pose. Place your hand upon the surface of a table and turn your arm to match hers. Look over your left shoulder. That moment, preserved in the portrait, of seeming repose, is transformed in your flesh. Tension arcs through your chest, coiling up your arm and through your throat. Look again at the portrait. Notice the flush of red in the figure’s ear. What are we looking at in this image? What has Sargent transcribed to canvas in this portrait?

Do we glimpse something of this woman, something of her manner? What has happened out of frame that has caused her to ripple with quiet tension? The cool, pale, serene expanse of her breast slides into the sudden blackness of her dress. In Madame X we encounter something hidden, something that slips from view, and lingers somewhere beyond the edge of the frame. Yet, the portrait is cavernous. It draws us in and we strain to fill it. How clever of Sargent to present us with an image so perfectly vacant, hollow. How can we help but take up residence, fill it out with all of our muscularity? Out of the confrontation with an undeniable It, we burst forth with an effulgent You.

In 1500, Albrecht Durer completed his Self Portrait at the Age of 28. Again, the composition is quite simple. The figure is centrally placed, he stares straight ahead at the viewer , his shoulders squared. His right hand gently holds the fur collar of his coat closed, his left arm indicated by the edge of his sleeve just peaking over the bottom of the frame. The painting relies heavily on chiaroscuro, the figure emerges from a dark ground and is indicated in planes of light carving out a narrow, angular face with large, widely spaced sloe eyes under arcing brows. His lips are full and dark, and framed by a carefully styled mustache and beard. A birthmark or blemish sits on his right cheek, under the corner of his eye. The face is not entirely attractive, an effect which is compounded by the odd rendering of his tightly curled hair. Yet, even though the expression is impassive, meeting the gaze of the portrait (if it is sensible to speak of a thing of paint and cloth and wood as having a gaze) it is near impossible not to see something twinkling within it. The rendering of the eyes, with all of their precise highlights, certainly pushes us toward seeing something profound within the image yet we can cannot deny that however beguiling, the portrait remains an It.

Again, this is a painting of an encounter. The viewer enters into a relation by gazing at the portrait, and comes to encounter a You, however briefly, flashing from within an interminable It. Perhaps this portrait no longer looks audacious to us, as it would have when it was painted. The figure meets our gaze, which in the time and place that it was painted, was an act reserved only for images of Christ. Notice, too, the awkwardly positioned right hand: Durer has, in that odd pose, echoed the gesture of benediction. Durer created a self-portrait that was designed to challenge the viewer, and assert that by gazing upon his own face, one was gazing upon a figure as important as Christ’s. It is a prideful image. Do we see that pride today? Do those arcing brows and angular planes tell us of the self-assurance of the man who drew them forth into being?

Even if it remains vague, there is an immediate sense of understanding when we allow ourselves to enter into an encounter. Sargent’s Madame X and Durer’s Self Portrait of the Artist as the Age of 28 may tell us very little about the actual beings after whom they are patterned, yet, if we encounter them, and fall into them, and find within them a hidden You, we have in ourselves some kind of knowing. We come away with a knowledge, however unstructured, of a being, or a way of being, that we encountered. We establish a relation through encounter, a positioning of ourselves in correspondence with something else.

Within the basic representation of the portrait lurks a fundamental abstraction: the You can never be represented, nor the encounter, nor the relation. The You, and everything that it entails, can only be given abstractly, obliquely, vaguely. We, through encounter and relation, transform the abstraction and recognize something like an interior life. Opening ourselves up to encounter, we move through the simple It of representation, into the exclusivity of the You. We orient ourselves toward the apprehension of the You, we go in search of it, and it is an act both of will and submission to find it. For though we must both seek out the You and acknowledge it, we, in turn, submit ourselves to the You we encounter and transform under its gaze.

The being of the You can never be represented. It defies the logic of representation, that would equate and exchange the simulacra for the original object. Representation only functions as an extension of the It-world: it serves as a deliberately contrived point of entry into encounter, but it itself can never equate or exchange itself with the encounter, or with the You that drifts behind it. The encounter remains outside of representation, and the immersion into the You is beyond its reach. The You cannot enter into a system of exchange or equivalence because it remains always exclusive, outside of the realm of value. Attempts to commodify any you are the product of the failure to recognize the You, and force it back into the It-world.

As the successful portrait demonstrates, the You stands outside of the reach of representation, it stands instead within pure presentation. We apprehend the You fully in its majesty without any mediation: it is an act of relation, one to one. “Persons appear by entering into relation to other persons” (Buber, 1996, p. 112), we appear under the gaze of the other, as the other appears under ours. The act of relation defies representation, and can only emerge through pure presentation itself.

 Whoever stands in relation, participates in actuality; that is, in a being that is neither merely a part of him nor merely outside him. All actuality is an activity in which I participate without being able to appropriate it. Where there is no participation, there is no actuality. (Buber, 1996, p. 113)

Form itself, shape and image and light, is the mere assemblage of objects. By entering into relation, we move beyond form and participate in actuality, in the reality of being. Representation may present us with the image, but it can never present us with the relationship. We ourselves must recognize the You and enter into relationship with it: only then do we know.



Buber, M. (1996). I and Thou. (W. Kaufman, trans.) New York: Touchstone. (Original work published 1970)


The New World

It was very strange for me seeing within minutes of arriving at the Polytheist Leadership Conference a Jehovah’s Witness walking out of the main entrance of the hotel. I recognized her immediately. The vinyl name badge holder clipped to the collar of her modest dress and the gray leather bible with silver embossment, just like my mother’s, were unmistakable. In a sudden sense memory, I could smell the vinyl of the name badge that I had worn clipped to my lapel fifteen years ago.

My mother converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith shortly after I was born, and did her best to raise me in it. It is hard for me to say whether or not I really ever believed Jehovah’s Witness doctrine when I think back to my childhood. I do know that it caused me a lot of anxiety and fear. I was always a quiet, strange child, and in a community that valued high levels of conformity, I never really felt comfortable. My experience of religion throughout my youth was largely cold and loveless. Yet, that is what I knew, and so what I expected.

As a teenager, my allegiance to the Watchtower Society gradually waned. I began to tire of the constant admonitions to prayer, always with the caveat that only those prayers in accordance with God’s will would be answered. I never did understand what God’s will entailed, since it seemed so far removed from my life. By the time that I entered college, I was thoroughly disenchanted with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and religion in general.

Looking back, it would be easy to explain my departure from my mother’s faith in terms of my sexuality. However, that really is too simple. As a young teenager, I prayed over and over again to Jehovah, through his son Jesus, asking him to take my desires away. He did not see fit to do so, and I never understood why.

At sixteen, one of the elders who had taken a personal interest in me, and who had been meeting with me regularly for weekly Bible study sessions, confessed to me that the reason that he had taken so much interest in my growth in the faith was because his own son was gay, and had left the Watchtower Society. A great iron door slammed shut between us. I became ill, I asked him to leave.

I had decided earlier that when he came to visit that day, I would confess that I was gay, and that I knew the doctrines; I would not act on my desires, I would remain alone and devote myself to God’s work, but that I was afraid and needed help. I had several years to consider this decision: I realized the ramifications of what I was going through almost immediately. So, by sixteen, I had been rolling this idea around in my head for at least two years. Some, I suppose, would have seen this elder’s confession as a sign from God, as a confirmation of purpose, but rather than euphoria, I felt disgust. I felt as though a great black pit had opened up in front of me and that one step forward would plunge me forever into perdition. I felt as though I was being mocked.

It would be easy to look to this to explain my falling away from the Watchtower Society, but it would be incomplete. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do everything in their power to isolate themselves from the rest of society. They abstain from politics and keep away from public events. My peers and I were not allowed to join in after school activities or sports teams, because nothing could come before our love for God. Of course, in the modern era, that kind of isolation only works so well.

As I grew up, I encountered more and more people who believed differently than I did, who knew a completely different truth. What was even more confounding for me, though, was how obviously earnestly and intently they knew these other truths to be True. However, the Watchtower Society perpetually intones that only they have the Truth, and that all other faiths, beliefs, or anything that contradicts the Divine Word, are Satan’s lies. It became apparent to me that someone was being deceived, though I could not always discern who.

I began to wonder how any one person could know that their own personal beliefs were absolute and true over and above everyone else’s, over and above all of the other possibilities. I realized that I could not express this wonder to anyone in my congregation. I continued to go to the weekly meetings and sit in the bland and inhospitable Kingdom Hall, because it was what I knew, even though I was increasingly wary.

Not long in to my freshmen year of college, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center. I was in class at time, and once we heard what happened, the university was closed and evacuated. There was some fear that the local universities would be targeted, as well, due to their government funding and open ties to the Defense Department. Driving home, caught in traffic, I listened to radio reports of the events with deepening horror and sorrow. I did not know how to react, I did not understand.

I remember, shortly after, going to a meeting at the Kingdom Hall. The sermon must have been bland, I remember none of it. Afterward, though, everyone gathered together in the lobby to speak in hushed tones about the terrorist attack. Surely this was a sign of the times, surely this was the beginning of the end, surely Armageddon must be coming! I was unsettled. I turned to one of my peers, and tried to speak of the suffering and horror that those people must have experienced, only to hear him, with tears in his eyes, and a smile on his face, exclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. I was chilled.

I did not understand how these people, these people who were constantly reciting the virtues of love, could let their hearts be filled with so much joy in the face of so much atrocity. I saw so many smiles, so much self-righteous glee, and I knew that I could have nothing else to do with these people ever again. How could anyone rejoice amidst so much suffering? How could people who so constantly intone that God is Love ignore the real human cost of the horrors they anticipated? I would continue to struggle with these ideas for several years. Though I had left the Watchtower Society, I continued to see similar sentiments expressed across the American religious spectrum.

So, seeing this Jehovah’s Witness woman emerge from the hotel as almost my first experience of the Polytheist Leadership Conference made me wonder how I, at fifteen, would have reacted. What would I have thought if I, in my suit with my nametag clipped to my lapel and my copy of the New World Translation in my hand, had walked out of my hotel to attend a regional assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as this woman surely was, and come across a group of people animatedly talking about not God, but the Gods and their experiences of them?

It is too easy, I think, to forget that our religious beliefs have real world consequences. What we believe, and how, influences our actions, our approach to the world, and the world is a complicated place. At fifteen, I was already struggling with the idea of truth as a monolithic block, against which sin and delusion were projected. The world is full of things, full of experiences for which there is no simple explanation. Religion can both open us up to these mysteries and close us off from them.

I think that there is a kind of relationship to truth that we must always be careful of. Religion and truth go hand in hand. Over and over again, religious people refer to their faith as the Truth, implying that Truth and faith are both singular. What happens to our world when God and Truth become synonymous? How much room is left for love?

Novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch provides us with a beautiful understanding of love, “Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real” (1959, p. 51). Individuals present us with difference, they open us up to new possibilities and ways of being. Love, the perception of individuals, the realization of their distinctiveness and unique being, should open us up to a profound understanding of Truth that can no longer be pinned to a single transcendental source. Murdoch, therefore asserts that, “Love… is the discovery of reality” (1959, p. 51).

I believe that it is necessary for us to cultivate a relationship to truth that encourages us to approach the experiences of others expansively and affirmatively. Love should move us to look beyond shallow, self-serving attempts to recontextualize and reduce the experiences of others into mere illusion, delusion, or derangement. Love, as the discovery of reality, transforms our understanding of truth into something much more dynamic and strange than we could ever have anticipated.

There is indeed a new world full of life, full of experience, full of being, and we only need to open ourselves up to it. If we are in love with difference, in love with the individual and unique, and if we allow love to reveal reality to us, then we must accept the multiform and various as innate features of the world. We must be willing to see the experiences of others as profoundly True in a way that we, perhaps, may never fully comprehend. If we really love others as they themselves are, then we realize just how necessary they are for us to understand the complexity and richness of the world. Through love, Truth shatters apart, and its single center opens up to reveal an endless array. Truth, in fact, becomes a process, and open ended procedure: the practice of love.

I see polytheism, then, as a framework for this complex, ongoing truth procedure. Polytheism encourages us to see the world as a place full of splendor, of incredible experiences, of wonderful surprises and variations. Polytheism encourages us to affirm the possibilities that surround us, to embrace life and explore its richness. Polytheism expands and opens Truth, and recognizes innately that it can derive from many simultaneous sources. As I see it, polytheism is the theological expression of love.

Understanding polytheism as being engaged with process means that it is constantly unfolding, expanding, and developing. While it binds tradition and history into itself, it is also powerfully oriented toward the future, toward the unknown and the possible. Guided by love, polytheism recognizes the necessity of individuals, and the irreducibility of individual experiences. Individuality and discrete experience become key features, absolutely necessary for our understanding of the world.

There is a tendency within singular understandings of Truth to simplify and apologize the complexity of the world in order to force it into alignment with some particular explanatory diagram. Polytheism seeks to avoid such procedures. The open-ended, forward-looking orientation of polytheism means that any explanatory diagram is at best provisional, and always open to adaptation and manipulation as more information becomes available.

I arrived at polytheism after a long struggle with the hypocrisy that I saw spread throughout the American spiritual and religious milieu. If we truly understand love as an important part of our spiritual and religious understandings, then I believe that it must manifest profound changes in our lives and communities. I honestly do not know how I would have reacted to the thought of polytheism as a real and lived expression of spirituality if I had encountered it at fifteen years of age. I know that now I see it as vital to an honest and loving understanding of the world.

My own experience, the work that I have done on myself, tells me that there is a great deal of work left to be done. I see polytheism as a powerful vehicle for change and progress. As we face increasing conflict globally, nationally, and even locally, I believe that it is absolutely necessary for us to examine how our relationships to Truth affect our approaches to the world around us, and whether or not that help us to come to a productive understanding of the experiences and needs of the manifold beings that we encounter. I firmly believe that polytheism helps us to understand our place in the complex lacework of relationships of life, community, and cosmos in a profound and far reaching way. I sincerely hope that love will open us up to the new world that is constantly unfolding around us.




Murdoch, I. (1959). The sublime and the good. Chicago Review. 13, 3, p. 42-53