Articles by The Thracian


A primary focus in the material that I teach is on considerations of establishing a firm foundation for polytheistic frameworks of discussion, practice, cult-building, worship, spirit-work, and inter-faith engagements. This is the guiding philosophy behind writings on discernment, distinctions, differentiations, definitions – “The Ds” – and on hashing out elementary ideas for “101” primers, and on building living tradition beyond the blog. It is why so much of my writing and talking circles back to the ground-level discussions, on returning to the central concepts and requisite paradigms, as well as comparative discourse on what falls outside of the realms of polytheistic consideration (or theisms of any kind, such as atheist secular thought or other-than-theistic philosophies or reductive non-theisms). All of this is around the common goal (shared amongst many of my colleagues and co-religionists) of establishing a usable and solid ground for engaging collectively in the pursuits of polytheistic religious discourse, theology, practice, and development into a 21st century that would otherwise see these ways and traditions further erased, subjugated, or subordinated beneath other (more popular and immediate) concepts. To survive in any real way, our polytheisms (and the ways in which we talk about them, identify ourselves within them, or approach them as newcomers) need certain elementary – remedial – steps.

In my 2015 article “A Polytheist Primer1”, published by The Wild Hunt, I set out to write a basic introduction to some of the major developments in the increasingly visible discussions coming out of many circles of polytheism, for the purposes of presenting the topic to those who were unfamiliar with the discussions taking place, or else were unaware that polytheisms could (and do) exist independent of other major movements (such as Neo-Paganism). This was written primarily for those new to “the conversation” so that it could be referenced back to, rather than rehashing the same (exhausted, exhausting) answers with each new voice of challenge and/or “inquisitive erasure.” (There are many such voices. Remember, kids: don’t read the comments. Anywhere. Ever.) To this end, while met with high praise and warm welcome for the most part, my primer fell short in one area, by way of omission. In my efforts to properly define and distinguish between identity level Polytheists2, polytheistic religious traditions3, and the Polytheist Movement4, I neglected to address a fourth (and in some respects “larger”, if also more general) topic that is getting regularly talked around, yelled about, or spoken down at: the foundations of polytheism.

Recent years have seen some very important developments in tradition-specific discussions, and the developments of newly received or emerging regional cults, priesthoods, and mystery lineages. These represent one important sector of polytheistic focus. However, in a very large chunk of the discussions in online sectors of the English-language Polytheist discourse, which includes many of the efforts of the Polytheist Movement, dialog is not focused on tradition-specific details and platforms (such as the Thiasos of the Starry Bull5, or a particular hypothetical Northern Tradition devotional cult in Vermont6) but rather about the intrinsic and basic characteristics of polytheism itself, which is to say, Foundational Polytheism7.

This is a concept that I have been using (primarily out-loud in lectures and private teaching or consults with colleagues) for years to describe some of the necessary elemental and requisite considerations within the sphere of religious study, practice, and identity categorized as “polytheistic”. It is not a religion unto itself.

Foundational Polytheism is a collective starting point, a methodology of approach and procedure, for religious engagement and “entrance” into polytheism, in practice or identity, addressing particular distinct needs of polytheistic religions not adequately provided for elsewhere. It does not replace, or supplant, or override the internal structures of individual polytheistic religions, but rather, it provides a practical bedrock of foundation for those who might not yet have access to, or involvement with, or knowledge of, a given specific religious tradition.

Many people’s “in-road” toward polytheistic religion comes from contact or experience with certain deities – perhaps unsolicited and unsought, or perhaps merely unexpected even after years of engagement in a non-religious context such as magic – who they might not even know clearly the names of, or the cultures-and-traditions of origin. What is a person to do when they have heightened and profound religious and worshipful experiences with a god, but cannot even find their name, or perhaps have mis-identified them (it happens often) with similar but unrelated deities from another pantheon or tradition? How can one show up to right relationship with a god when they cannot even figure out who the god is, let alone what they want? Waiting until they’ve become an expert in a tradition that they cannot yet identify is unhelpful if that god is “at the door” already. What they need, right there and then — some guidance and tips or protocols or starter-practices — which can be used immediately, adapted right out of the gate; a methodology for the beginnings of laying a polytheistic foundation.

Not every person in this circumstance has access to credibly trained and professional diviners, spirit-workers, or clergy, (caution is advised that not all divination is created equal), and so can find themselves all-too-easily making wrong assumptions (informed perhaps by experiences with traditions or backgrounds outside or even contrary to the scope of polytheistic religion) leading to offense, transgression, or worse. It is important when seeking guidance to find somebody informed about the context and framework of the thing engaged; a monogamy-focused marriage counselor is probably not the proper fit for a polyamorous triad, because they’re not likely to be versed in the distinct needs, agreements, and configuration dynamics of a relationship structured in this way. Seeking religious counsel from a magician is unlikely to yield context-specific guidance, because the needs of a magician are different and distinct from that of a devotional religionist. (Most magical traditions the world over developed in conjunction with a religious structure: modern approaches to magic and witchcraft often avoid the importance of these, favoring “rugged individualism” and secular humanist disdain popularized by installments of Hell Blazer or Supernatural, where a protagonist will give the finger to the forces of the cosmos and slay gods, reducing, via fictional mediums, world-religion and spirit-tradition down to inconveniences that humankind must battle against for their independence.)

The purpose of Foundational Polytheism is to provide an accessible and basic (adaptive, elastic) polycentric matrix of concepts, approaches, paradigms, philosophies, and in general, advice for figuring it out without needing to reinvent the wheel. (For example: a devotionally offered votive candle is fundamentally different from a setting of lights candle-magic working practiced in Conjure. They are approached differently – for distinct reasons – and to synonymize them is to fail to recognize what either of them is. The ways and reasons that devotional offerings are approached as a topic of practices is rarely addressed in magically-derived traditions, and so this area represents a very real need that is distinct to religion, which many struggle with understanding.) Some folks might only need the support of some of these foundational structures in the beginning, before finding themselves in a tradition or course of study and practice which supplies the finer details and nuances needed; others may find themselves already in a tradition or practice which still doesn’t supply these nuances or answer their needs.

The most prolific voices on these topics are, largely, aware of the distinction between Foundational Polytheism and a specific polytheistic tradition (such as Gaulish Polytheism); but it is clear (and has been for a while) that the general readership might not always be able to recognize this.

One of the best examples I can think of is the reaction from certain sectors of Kemetic polytheism responding to Canaanite polytheist priest and author Tess Dawson’s article in 2013 8 about devotional offerings and some basic, general, “dos/donts” when approaching polytheistic devotions and rituals as a newcomer without the benefit of a structured specific tradition to provide clear instruction.9 In this article the author provided a thorough Q&A response to the sort of questions that a number of us in the leadership sectors of various polytheistic traditions – Natib Qadish, in this author’s case – field every day,10 through email or social media or private phone calls. In the article, the priest advised a beginner-to-polytheism that in most cases, eating something given to the gods as a food-offering was an offense, whereas in at least some Kemetic contexts, eating the offerings is exactly what is expected and is part of the ritual technologies of the religion, as it is through this exchange that the worshippers receive blessings from their gods.

The answer was around how a newcomer to polytheism could begin to engage with deities, perhaps when they did not have an overarching tradition to provide such answers, when these deities were already showing up. The author’s answer was on-point and wonderful and thoughtful and courteous; to the seeker, to the gods, and to the traditions who might supply different answers. This was a foundational response, with the caveat that individual traditions (and specific deities) might have specific structures, agreements, or protocols; foundational answers don’t replace or overwrite or challenge those. The response from some corners of polytheism were volatile and aggressive toward the author, who was accused of all sorts of things which were not said in the article, which was not an article about Kemetic religion anyway. It became a bit of a controversy overnight. (Thanks, Tumblr.) The thing is: this didn’t need to be a controversy, because the author hadn’t said anything controversial, nor challenged any other cult teaching. There are some good solid foundational basics for how to handle and approach the idea of physical offerings to gods, and these are to be treated as “elementary” rather than “universal”; a “best guess starting point” until you learn otherwise (from the deities in question, from the tradition or lineage teachings, or so forth).

In other words, many of these foundational elements essential to polytheistic religious approach are about basic approaches to core values, like hospitality, respect, piety, and reciprocity. Values which, frankly, the dominant world cultures in the West have not really done a good job of teaching. (One does not, for example, give expired meat as an offering in general devotional religion: that is offensive.)

As Edward Butler, PhD, stated in a recent conversation about these matters, the basic cultural and consciousness point that many people today are starting at with regard to the topics of polytheistic religion and polycentric theology or world-view is needing some exposure to and familiarity with some fundamental shifts in understanding (of self, of cosmos, of creation) not supplied by the parent overculture or societal milieu, in order to more fully and comprehensively “get” and “live” polytheism. It is not enough to say “the gods are real” and pretend as though this – without unpacking or exploring it further – is sufficient to install paradigm-level nuance of sense-and-relation beyond that which is supplied by our culture’s (Monotheist, monist reductive, or secular-atheist) societal norms. In other parts of the world, and in other times of world history, this is not the case, because there are there-and-then presumed culture exposures to certain basic understandings, many of which are not necessarily religious in and of themselves but become critically essential to the theory, practice, and embodiment of polytheism today. In other words, certain essential (foundational) understandings are absent from the 21st century Western assumed culture experience, and must therefore be hashed out and engaged explicitly, or else the space that these understandings is meant to hold will become occupied by some other (unrelated, or even contrary) paradigm.

Different people come to this conversation for different reasons, from different backgrounds, and with different experiences, identities, proficiencies, and needs. The purpose of the Polytheist Movement is not to represent people (as this is not what movements generally do), but rather to represent the stated and identified needs of specific demographics of people for the purpose of need-fulfillment, advocacy, education, and resource-based support. Examples of support include (most obviously) the writings found across the polytheistic sectors of the internet – from personal blogs to professional articles and columns – and professional teaching, training, and mentorship, or outside experts consulting with or advising establish(ed/ing) polytheistic religious traditions, cults, and dedicant communities.

There are some distinct demographics to consider when reading, writing, thinking about, or talking about polytheistic religious practices, and it is important that these distinctions be kept somewhat in mind to avoid accidental erasure (as a writer or commenter) or overly personalizing one’s interpretation of a given contribution (as a reader) and responding with hostility when the item in question may not have been intended to speak to or provide for that given person’s needs. Some polytheisms are extant indigenous11 world religions which have survived colonialism, genocide, and Monotheism’s cultural murder machine (missionary work) and need to be remembered and named, else they are assumed in writing to be gone and erased. Newcomers to “affirming with religious regard many real gods”12 might hail from any number of avenues into polytheism. Some are part of a polytheistic group or tradition13 but don’t have an identity-and-paradigm level investment or experience with these religions, while others do not have a group but are defined primarily by these things at the identity and paradimic levels. Some converted14 into polytheisms, and others did not15, and so on: in all, these are all different in-roads with distinct backgrounds, baggage, or interpretative bias.

Some of these groups will have different needs from one another, for different reasons.16 Some might have needs in understanding polytheistic foundations because they are totally new, do not have a formal tradition, and need help. At this time, this is who the ongoing public polytheistic dialog is often seeking to support, not because everyone falls into this category, but because this is potentially the category with the highest need in figuring the foundations out. Some will not need these foundations to inform their practices, because their practices might come out of a structured tradition which provides them the instruction that they need; but these may still benefit from learning foundations in order to better understand other people and traditions to avoid conflicts by assuming that their way is the only/right way.

Realistically speaking some people will not want, or need, to engage this material at all. And that’s fine. And those people should find themselves somewhere else to engage, and stop interrupting the material and contributions probably intended for others. Not everything is intended for everyone; the assumption that everything should be tailored specifically to a one-size-fits-all interpretation is an assumption of gross entitlement.

Nevertheless, it is also important that we acknowledge that there may be an ever-expanding set of needs that, given the marginalized nature of our religions and religious identities, may need to be filled later (or are current needs not yet addressed or even visibly identified), so that as a movement we can continue to grow and to do better. Examples include continuing to develop international and interfaith discourse, such that the values or behavior/philosophy trends of one privileged or focal demographic do not get applied with a broad-stroke across the global discourse, such that others are by definition excluded and even alienated with hostility. We must serve to recognize intrinsic non-equational distinction and separateness between disciplines, such as “the pursuit of religious devotions” and “civic political engagement, economic theory, or social justice”, even though one may intersectionally inform or direct the other. This does not mean creating spaces which tolerate racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, or otherwise; rather that we must approach in good faith for the purposes of constructive building with a potentially exponential set of considerations, and an understanding that no one author, writer, reader, or teacher can account for the needs of everyone in the world who has polytheistic practices or identity.

There are no magic bullet solutions. Many gods, many people, many ways, many voices, many views, many ideas, many angles, many lenses of consideration, through which we can all together hope to find a future in this world for our traditions, for our religions, for our communities, for a thousand thousand years of Polytheists yet to come, that our gods – all of them, those named and unnamed, known and unknown, for they are countless – may be praised, remembered, honored, and hailed with voices raised together, or supported by peers and allies and collegial co-religionists the world over.

The content of Foundational Polytheism, being studies, writings, lectures, presentations, or informal pointers in a Q&A, are not “instructions” for a specific religion, cult, or tradition: they are the building blocks from which a person or group can assemble a structure of understanding the paradigms essential for elementary polytheistic theologies, ritual theory, devotional practice, spirit-work, and more.

Foundational Polytheism is elementary, education oriented, and amongst the primary contributions of the Polytheist Movement. It is not in contest with established traditions, although some established traditions may find it to be fundamentally essential, as many ritual or worship groups were founded without the benefit of such resources, having been previously formed-and-established without access to such understandings, teachings, and theological insights in the first place. There are a lot of modern and/or new polytheistic traditions which have no theological center, not because there isn’t a theology to their religions, but because there simply hasn’t been a large Western focus on polytheistic theology until relatively recently, more or less across the board (including in academia). When there is no center, or no ground underfoot, slipping and sliding and wild haymakers are what follow.

The Polytheist Movement is a way of describing a whole lot of different sorts of engagements and outreach and education, including discussions of Foundational Polytheism, and neither the Polytheist Movement nor Foundational Polytheism are “a religion”, nor seeking to decide who/what/why polytheistic religion and Polytheist identity are. They are seeking to create the spaces and contribute to the field of study of polytheistic religion, and the religious rights work necessary to see it protected, and prospering in this century of prejudice and continued erasure.

This is about listening, and about learning, and about providing freely for the purposes of polytheistic outreach, education, and support.

Foundational Polytheism is a good place to start, a methodology of approach, for those looking for a place to begin, and a good place to learn about elementary foundational understandings of theology, ritual craft and theory, practical concerns and community dynamics, interfaith discourse, for anyone who could benefit from these, as MANY existing polytheistic traditions in the US did not have the benefit of such a thing when they came about, and learning is never a thing that is “done”. Not everyone needs to engage, as not everyone has these needs: but those should kindly leave the programming respectfully in order to avoid rendering real and lasting harm to those who do, and whose stability-and-survival-of-self-and-religious-identity might very well depend on it.

Content Edits: July 20, 12:05 a.m.: “a methodology of approach and procedure,” was added to the central definition of “Foundational Polytheism”; “What they need, right there and then — some guidance and tips or protocols or starter-practices — which can be used immediately, adapted right out of the gate; a methodology for the beginnings of laying a polytheistic foundation.” was added in full as the closing sentence to paragraph 6. a methodology of approach” was added to the first sentence of the concluding paragraph.

Updates! New multi-author column announced

Our third announcement of the week! will soon feature a new multi-author column that will be unveiled later this season, showcasing entirely anonymous authors, sharing personal and informal accounts of liminal, ritual, magical and ecstatic experiences within their pursuits as Polytheists.

This track shall hold accounts of profound or terrifying or tragic or awakening moments as experienced directly by the writers, without the weight of being identified by name. Names are powerful things, which can — if known and respected, or carried with infamy on whispered lips, occasionally shape and influence how a piece is read. Similarly, some people whose names are not known might find themselves intimidated by the idea of sharing these most personal of accounts, asking themselves why anyone would value what they have to say?

There are many places where big names carry a lot of weight, and there are even more places where writers can make names for themselves: but this new column will be a place for no names at all, where all of the baggage of those things is stripped away and hung up on entry for sacred sharing in the dark sacredness of nameless anonymity.

There will be an honor system here, for better or worst: this is a place for truth, and for trust. The intent will be to provide a safe and anonymous place for authors to write personal accounts of transformative, ecstatic, divine, or worshipful experiences as a 21st century Polytheist, in connection with the many gods in any one of the MANY ways that these relationships unfold. Not everyone is a spirit-worker, or has a “god-phone”, but everyone has experiences, and these are sacred and valuable.

These experiences of our gods and of our spirits, or of our shifting and awakening awareness of them in all of their fullness and richness, distinct from one another and from ourselves and from this world, and yet in constant steady relationship with it all… these are the things which define us as Polytheists. This will be a place to share these experiences, in a setting where others might gain inspiration, growth, or insights from them… where others can relate to them, or find relationship through them.

The anonymity of the authors will be absolute between each of them and the single editorial person, and retained in private records for the sole purpose of author’s retaining their rights to the work (in the event that they would like to see them printed elsewhere down the way and the like).

Please stay tuned for more updates on this new sub-project, and feel free to contact us privately on FaceBook or email directly ( at gmail dot com) for instructions on how the submissions process will work, with the subject “Anonymous Submissions”.

Thank you, and have a blessed day!

Updates! New site design, and call for submissions!

June 23, 2015:

Welcome to the new face of, rebuilt and relaunched with a new engine under the hood and a more stable hosting environment. It’s an bustling week here, with new content and all kinds of exciting updates! Follow us on Facebook for the most recent of everything, or subscribe to our RSS feed!


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS! As a new feature with the site, four times a year — Solstices and Equinoxes — will launch an open call for submissions from our communities.

What we are looking for is proposals for articles or essays on subjects, topics, perspectives or challenges related to living and practicing Polytheist religions and spiritual traditions today. These will be reviewed and the selected proposals will have a deadline worked out with the author, for inclusion in our Featured Voices track on the site (which will gain increasing focus and centrality on the site).

There is room for some Featured Voices guest writers to shift over into a regular column track, but to start, one-off articles is the way to go. The intent here is to break out of the echo-chamber that sometimes takes hold with online media in niche communities: it’s sort of like open-mic night, except still regulated in a minimal way behind the scenes to ensure continuity of quality in the content put forth. Please message our Facebook Page or email us directly ( at gmail dot com) for instructions on how to submit a proposal! Many blessings and much respect to all in our communities.

Please stay tuned later this week for more updates, new articles, and more!

It is a damn good time to be a Polytheist!


creating the old & borrowing the new

James Hoscyns, Oct. 13, 2014

creating the old & borrowing the new

Language is undeniably an important facet of spiritual practice. As an aspect of simple communication, it lets us convey our beliefs to others. We raise words up to the divine through the shaping of intent and the molding of prayer. We lurk on web forums and set fire to the comment sections in defense and make war with trolls. No matter what, we are surrounded by and immersed in language at every point. Despite this envelopment, or perhaps because of it, I’ve noticed two particular questions on the importance of language in spiritual practice tend to be met by universal pauses. The first is “why is it important?” and the second is “how is it important?”


Language is complicated. Language is big. And it connects us to something larger than ourselves, and even larger then. Languages old and new alike serve to connect us to the spiritual genetics of the gods we worship, connecting us with the people and places that have come before and to those who will yet, and in that way, we identify ourselves as being part of this same spiritual current. Our ethnic and national identity is inconsequential; our biological genetics erode away when we enter into this space where we belong, because we are made to belong there.

Of course, a language itself isn’t always the reason why. For us, Old High German and Latin and Thracian, among many others, are not our native languages, and the reason why becomes the act of acquiring a language itself. Through learning a language, we develop a deeper understanding of our own spiritual practices. In the same vein as crafting our own statuary or writing our own devotional poetry, learning a language of spiritual value itself becomes another way of ‘getting one’s hands dirty’ and doing a work which demonstrates our piety, respect, and love. Is it required? Is it a divine necessity? Not necessarily, but it certainly enriches the experience.

There are limitations to this question, though. ‘Because’ gives away our motivations and our intention, but can fail to recognize that our languages, like our faiths, while informed by the past, are also vibrant traditions that are exceptionally alive right now. So, if I’m an American-born Celtic reconstructionist, shouldn’t I be learning Old Irish instead of spoken dialect-neutral standardized Scottish Gaelic? Well, maybe not…


Language may serve as a timeless highway connecting us to the past and future, but the scenery changes along the way, and language just isn’t the way it used to be, or will yet be. Things change. Constantly. Right now, I fight with different speech registers in my head and avoid all the easy colloquialisms that come first out of my mouth (languages, rawr!), and remain resolute to keep writing in English, despite all the other languages floating around me. Instead, I’m making a choice to write the way I am, because it serves to separate these words I have to say from the words I use when I lament the line at the self-checkout, because this deserves focus and respect, something very much the same as when we use specific languages to serve specific ritual purposes.

We switch forms of our language and the very language itself in order to mark the difference between the spiritual and the mundane. It is an alarm, reminding us that there is a different place to be, a different time to be, and one that reinforces our otherworldliness. This is not the grocery store, after all—this is holiness.

Assuming some givens, that gods = respect and mundane = supermarket, then why use a modern language? A Celtic reconstructionist from anywhere obviously should be using Old Irish, naturally, instead of any of the living Celtic languages, right? A native speaker of Scottish Gaelic, knowledgeable in the modern written form, may not use their regular speech for ritual purposes. It’s too close to the words for the self-checkout, and who wants to sound like that in the presence of gods? But for a native speaker of something else, it isn’t necessarily this way. The ritual use of standard modern Welsh is just as much an acknowledgement that this spiritual current has continued on as it is a sign of respect from someone identifying themselves as belonging. Simply because Middle Welsh doesn’t have a word for ‘computer’ and modern Welsh does (cyfrfiadur, for what it’s worth) is not of and in itself an indicator that a language is inherently any more or less holy or profane than another.

Language is not a single point in space; it writhes its way through the bends of time just as we do, conforming to fit at one period and bursting through its containment at others. The names of languages and the words we use change, the ideas we have and the ways we view and express them change, just as the historicity of names and words themselves do, but we continue to use them in every way we can: uninterrupted and heavily changed, frozen in time with no new speakers; others are resurrected, some forgotten, some borrowed, some blue. This is how we go about creating the old and borrowing the new. It is our fundamental method of demonstrating our capacity to form self-identity and connections. Language is a ritual tool, used properly and with respect, through which our individual selves fit into a community, both human and divine.



James Hoscyns is a former recovering child prodigy and professional translator and language teacher who can be found at He lives in Seattle where he prefers his coffee hot and his rain falling.


Religions of Relation: Dynamics in Modern Polytheism


Anomalous Thracian, The Irresolute Desk, September 30, 2014

This morning while waking up into my pot of coffee, I watched a video piece showcasing the impact that one species in an ecosystem could have upon the entire system. While the video itself was slightly sensationalist and, indeed, possibly taking a liberal approach to some of the facts it was levying about, it served as a useful starting point for discussions around the importance of understanding the world around us through the relationships that define it. Nothing exists independent of anything else, not because of some philosophical monistic sense of collective one-ness, but specifically because of the diverse many-ness of all… intersecting and networking through complex systems of relation.

Death, for example, is not just an important factor in those relationships, but indeed a partnering figure, a character unto itself.

In polytheist and animist understandings of the world, all things exist in these complex relationships, which are visibly reflected and found in congruent form in physical nature, sciences, and social theory.

A lot of people who are coming into polytheist religions from a dominant parent-culture paradigm of staunch monotheism or secular atheisms struggle at understanding the complex relationship factors. Understanding polytheism as systems of relationship, first and foremost, is an important thing; and, indeed, relationships wherein humans are not at the center (although for obvious reasons, we take a central role in the active execution of our own practices, being the ones developing those practices).

Dualist, monist1, or atheist paradigms carry over into many newcomers to polytheism, who struggle with the number of gods, spirits, or relationships, as if they need to “know” them all, in order to “get it” or “do it”.

Relationships do not need to be “known” or “understood”, but merely acknowledged. It is not about “mapping and cataloging” all of the complexities, but instead having space for those complexities, and working to develop a lived awareness around our own part within them. There is a tactile responsiveness that comes from the re-development of this polytheist and animist paradigm, like learning to drive a car or ride a bike: reading and hearing about it is useful up to a point, but in getting on the road, you suddenly realize that you can feel the road beneath your feet, and that split-second learned responses to things like moisture on the asphalt, fog in the air or gusts of wind strong enough to put a little bit of tail-spin into your trajectory are all examples of “things you need to learn on the ground, not in a book”.

These “tactile responses” are not often discussed or understood from a place of intellectual knowing or understanding, and yet we who drive or ride bicycles or unicycles or go-karts or ride atop horses or camels or polar bears, use them every day. To operate any of these without a physical responsiveness to the relationships we hold to the world around us would mean, at the very least, a staggeringly impacted decline in operational efficiency and safety.

The West has done remarkable things with learning, education and cultivating the intellect in the last five hundred years or so, and yet has also done some insidiously terrible things with the same. One such byproduct that does not serve us is “intellectual entitlement”: the idea that we have the right to know or understand a thing, in order for that thing to matter or value on its own. This topic is seen across a wide range of diversity issues2. For example, many cis-gendered3 individuals who struggle with not understanding the complexities of gender-variance4 are made uncomfortable by the request to use certain pronouns to refer to individuals, whose identities and pronoun preferences they do not understand. In the face of lack of understanding (generally considered “ignorance”) many people feel that it is their right to “resolve” their ignorance by questioning (interrogating and scrutinizing) the people who represent to them a disturbance to their own comfort (e.g. state of understanding). They fail to recognize that their own understandings, or ignorances, are completely irrelevant to the context of another person’s right to be respected, and do not in any way entitle them to an explanation (e.g. socially coerced justification of autonomous value) in order to be expected to render due respect to the persons in question. This intellectual entitlement carries over into -theistic avenues as often as it does issues of gender, race, and sexual orientation, and for individuals venturing into polytheism from a cultural background of atheism or monotheism — or in general 21st century Western secularism — these patterns can indeed become quite pervasive and disruptive, and even self-applied.

In short, the West has taught that a thing only has value if we can feel adequately justified of its value based upon the field of our own onboard value systems or rigid critical faculties, regardless of how (un)developed, (un)skillful or (ir)relevantly informed these things may indeed be. This rigidity, rather than an elastic sense of responsive awareness, gets us in trouble; it gets us in trouble interpersonally and culturally when interfacing with elements from outside of what we feel has justified value, it gets us in trouble when dealing with intellectual concepts that bring discomfort due to a perception that they may threaten our own stances or values (a byproduct of industrial capitalism’s “scarcity model” of human process!), and it gets us in trouble indeed when considering or engaging with religious and spiritual relationships or considerations from outside of a reductionist rigidity.

Polytheism is about relationships. Relationships must be understood in an adaptive fashion, with space left in our own “equations of understanding” for variables that we may never be able to “solve” or “know”. Our inability to “solve X” does not mean that “X” has no value; quite the opposite, in fact, as any middle school algebra student should attest.

Not all relationships in polytheistic religious devotions or practice will be direct and transcendent or descendant or two-way-communicative. Not everyone has to be able to talk to the spirits and have them talk back, or use their well-polished “god-phone”5 to dial up every pantheon in the phonebook. Not every lay person needs to be a mystic, and not every priest needs to be a god-spouse6, and so on and so forth. It needs to be clear that just as there is an enormous amount of diversity in the gods themselves — because poly- means many! — there is a huge and myriad selection of ways to be in aware relationship with them… and with ourselves, and our spirits, and the land around us. Sometimes this relationship is literally only one factored into practice at the awareness level, rather than direct interaction. For example, there are neighbors living behind my house whom I have no direct interactions with (by choice, let me tell you!), and yet our yards share a common border and fence between them, with tree-branches connecting them quite literally. If I installed a pit on my property for offerings of the biological and decomposing variety, it would be best to consider my relationship with those neighbors — “indirect” as it is — when finding the correct placement for such, because the overwhelming acrid scent of rotting flesh is amongst the fastest ways to bring yourself into direct relationship with everyone around you. Relationship awareness gives us the elasticity of understanding and factoring variables polynomially7 into the expressions of our dance through the curtained and dramatic stages of this grand theater of a world that we share with a literal countless sum of other actors, agents and elements.

Indeed, this same elasticity must be applied also to our understanding of our own Selves, whose multiplicity of layers and internal relationships must also be accounted for. Self knowledge is incredibly important and powerful, but even more potent is awareness of the spaces that we may never know, the corners we might only glimpse by firelight’s dance-cast illumination for the briefest of instances. Discernment calls for an assessment of what is known, indeed, but also to provide intuitively for the spaces that we cannot know to factor in — variables, like “X” — which nevertheless impact the relation dynamic of Self-with-Self, and Self-with-World, Self-with-Humans, and indeed, Self-with-Gods.

In short, to develop the internal, perceptual, and devotional “muscles” called for in polytheism — and indeed any approach to any relationship — one must practice a thing that many other traditions, philosophies, magical practices and indeed Western parent-cultures have taught them not to do, in word or deed: get over yourself. Do this at least enough to proverbially and spiritually and cognitively develop dancing feet and the “elasticity” that allows a drunk to stumble away unhurt from an automotive wreck on the highway, because let’s face it: our worlds, and the many, many relationships within them, often lead to collision.

And “truth is always sifted from the rubble resulting from the collision”, or however the saying goes.

And no, this isn’t a call for lived relativism — another dangerous form of reductionism, valuable when applied correctly but disastrous when misapplied, as it almost always is — but instead for a radically different and critically savvy approach that accounts both for what is known, and for the space for that which is unknown, which allows for the adaptation of that which is known from one shifting state to another as time and relations continue, or indeed the ephemeral unknown coming into sharpening clarity or momentarily fixed and known state.

In shorter? To be “good” at polytheism requires that one become “good” at relationships, as much with yourself as with the wolves and the waterfalls of the worlds, wonders and wights around you.


The Thracian is a carnivorous cave-dwelling creature, supplementing a diet of fresh meat with ample intake of whiskey and cigars. Active primarily during the nocturnal hours, this particular figure serves his community as a full-time temple priest, shaman, and spirit-worker. He lives with a young African raven and two score temple serpents. He writes at Constructing Living Tradition and Thracian Exodus.When he is not stalking dinner, wrestling dragons and oracular corvids, the Thracian is known to serve as director and founder of

1. Monism is not itself in contest or requisite disagreement with polytheist paradigm, however certain popularized views of substance monism found in post-monotheist theologies and magickal philosophies which affirm the “one-ness” or “same-ness” of “all” indeed find themselves at odds with polytheism. These in fact decay the very foundations upon which relationship must be understood through: the association of differentiated “things”.

2. Diversity issues and topics relevant to social justice, oppression, and erasure are often brought up in conjunction with polytheism. Part of this is because a huge number of modern polytheists come from under-represented, misunderstood, oppressed, suppressed, or prejudiced communities and demographics. Indeed, the last few years have proven for us again and again that to identify as a polytheist religionist at all is to open oneself up to direct attempts at erasure from many directions, for many reasons, and to face many forms of attack. For many polytheists, awareness and active engagement around a selection of social justice issues is as much a part of their religious identity as direct devotions and offerings, for often it is our very gods who draw us to these causes, or indeed shelter and heal and guide us through our own painful experiences of bigotry, physical violence, and unchecked vitriol from lashing trolls and hate-mongers, as well as neighbors, friends or family that we had previously placed our trust in.

3. Cis-gender is a term used to describe related types of gender identity where individuals’ experiences of their own gender match the sex they were assigned at birth. This term is employed in modern discussions of gender and gender identity, where previously held terms like “normal” or “regular” are understood to be both discriminatingly offensive and expressions of normative oppression, as well as gender privilege. A lot of very good information is available on the internet to understand this term, its usefulness, and history.

4. Gender-variance is a term used here to refer to any person whose gender identity does not conform to the dominant gender expectations of their society (including trans* persons, intersexed persons, gender-queer, gender-fluid, meta-gendered, et al).

5. God-phone” is a colloquial term used in many spirit communities for discussion of various experiences or abilities pertaining to direct communication with the gods or spirits, in either voluntary or involuntary fashions, with a spectrum of clarity ranging from low (e.g. a person with an “unclear signal”) to high (which often involves years of training and practices of discipline to achieve). While many do not like the term, it is useful, and has spread so far as to become fairly universally understood in the applicable communities. Not every polytheist has direct communication in this way with their gods or spirits, and that is okay. Having a “god-phone” is not, and should not be, the expected baseline experience: it is generally considered the realm of dedicated specialists, although there are many non-specialists who enjoy regular communion with their gods and spirits in this way.

6. “God-spouse” is a term for any person who has entered into any one of many different forms of marriage union with a deity, which is a tradition found throughout the world in both ancient and modern religious and spirit traditions.

7. Polynomial, in mathematics, refers to an expression consisting of variables and coefficients, that involves only the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and non-negative integer exponents. Polynomials appear in a wide variety of areas of mathematics and science. For example, they are used to form polynomial equations, which encode a wide range of problems, from elementary word problems to complicated problems in the sciences; they are used to define polynomial functions, which appear in settings ranging from basic chemistry and physics to economics and social science; they are used in calculus and numerical analysis to approximate other functions. In advanced mathematics, polynomials are used to construct polynomial rings and algebraic varieties, central concepts in algebra and algebraic geometry. (Wikipedia contributors, “Polynomial,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed September 30, 2014).