Polytheism vs Monotheism
by Julia Cybele Lansberry
edited by Joan Lansberry
"Why are the Multiple Gods of Paganism a superior explanation for the Universe and all that transcends the universe than the One God Unlimited of such faiths as the Abrahamic ones?" This question has been asked of me more than once.
My answers are not based on classic apologetic arguments or citations from philosophers of old, but come from my direct experience. Let's begin with reflections on the observable world of human beings and the history of humanity's groping for understanding of phenomena, both physical and spiritual.
When one member of a class is discovered, it most always follows that a multiplicity of members of that class will be subsequently found. This has its counterpart in the spiritual numinous world as well, in that we may have an experience of a God and then later broaden our experience by coming to some degree of familiarity with other Gods, provided we have an open heart for this awareness.
I speak additionally from my personal experience beginning in childhood. I was raised in a branch of Protestant Christianity which embraced some sense of separate triune personhood in the Divine. This is a broadening of the 'One God Unlimited' into THREE parts. Christians get past the problem of 'THREE Gods', by saying they are three-in-one, like the egg's 'yolk, whites and shell', thereby keeping the illusion of 'One God Unlimited'.
However, God the Father is seen as distant and impersonal, so his Son Jesus hears one's prayers, and the Holy Spirit is omnipresent in its influence on human hearts to choose the will of God. They function as three separate, but related deities. How is this really any different from the trinities of Roman, Celtic or Hindu classical religion?
Having seen this parallel, I was drawn to explore it further. I found essential similarities of spiritual experience outside the scope of monotheistic Christianity and later outside the category of "Abrahamic faiths" as well. The same tree grows in many gardens.
I believe fixation on "the One" is simply an embrace of oneness in the class of Deity, "undifferentiated", analogous to speaking of "Man" in the undifferentiated sense. In a way it's experience generality at the expense of more intimate connection. Perhaps it's a matter of taste, but I don't want to "love Mankind" while failing to know and love with many particular "named" men and women! How abstract and empty such omission would be!
Furthermore, there is another way we can use our understanding of the natural world to aid in our understanding of the spiritual world. We can infer by analogy that beings of higher nature might exist just as we have confirmed those of simpler development and social organization. We call them 'animals', as if we are something separate.
A pampered pet may be forgiven any belief that his master is the ONLY master; for his philosophy has been limited by sphere of experience. It may happen that circumstances will reveal a multiplicity of potential "masters" if the door is left open someday.
Is it not likely that in the Cosmos, its true vastness only recently evident, there are all manner of intelligences dwarfing ours in loftiness . . . beings spawned and advanced before our sun had its present form? Such would be gods to us, whether or not they are the ones we identify by names. I have come to trust more in the worship that has grown from an ancient starting point of human experience of the numinous.
There's a Latin word 'numen', referring to the trace of divinity which registers on our threshold senses. For it seems to be now that religions mandated by scriptures are highly derivative and several steps removed from the original numinous point of experience.
The evidence is clear in the borrowings of mythic stories from more ancient 'pagan' sources. I find enduring value in seeking the historical process of religion. Man has essentially tried over time to abstract, codify, and crystallize the primal experience of contact with the Gods. But in all this catagorization, the truth of the subjective experience is lost. Yet we can't KNOW the Gods, unless we have that experience.
A third approach comes as well from the exploration of our physical world, but expresses itself in a purely aesthetic sense. Let's draw an analogy to music even though it may involve a matter of taste, rather than strictly logical proof, but please bear with me. Which is superior, then, a symphony of many voices: many instruments, woven into a harmonic tapestry . . . or one loud percussion, booming endlessly in one note, one rhythm, and nowhere to escape from it?
Yes, the latter can surely 'kick ass' and make an angry statement. Is the monotone loftier? Better? Nobler? My opinion is "no", and I do realize that I run the risk of offending fans of contemporary Rap. That's a genre that I find at its best in self-parody. Indeed, the same could be said for the religion of my childhood; it fed my quest once but didn't satisfy beyond early years. I felt a different call that puzzled me as a child but led me on a rich journey of fulfillment.
There is a great Beauty in the Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses and a great intimacy too. In crisis and disappointment Mars Ultor (the avenger) brings needed consolation and strength. At another time, we call upon gentle Venus for Her special graces in love.
We humans are individuals; one size does NOT fill all people or all needs! One remedy does not suffice for all ills. For most of my life, I was seeking the "missing" Divine Feminine because She was made anathema by those in power, from Josiah's cultural purge of Judaism twenty-six centuries ago. The Goddess Asherah, consort of El, was removed to elevate the 'One God Unlimited'. Similarly, ascendant patriarchal factions within pre-Nicene Christianity suppressed the original feminist docrines of Montanism.
In rebuilding a covenant with Venus, Magna Mater, Iuno, Vesta and other Goddesses, we correspondingly find a new relationship with Gods of masculine identity: Mars, Iuppiter, the Dioscuri, and Sol each represent a different aspect of virtue and power. Each emerges as a distinct, near and vivid presence, out of the distant and abstract "agnostos theos". This 'Unknown God' then comes into focus in his individual personas.
The Greeks reserved a temple for the 'agnostos theos', basically as an insurance that no divine beings were neglected through ignorance. Later, the Christian Paul told them the missing Deity was his Christian one. This would have been fine with the Greeks and Romans if Jesus could just step on the platform along with the rest of the Divine pantheon. But aggressive monotheism would not allow that possibility! Hence, by this, the fatal virus of religious warfare was introduced to the classical world, continuing as internecine war to this very day.
I shall end by emphasizing that I do not seek to convince or proselytize, but simply to share my thoughts and direct experience. Perhaps these considerations can launch further spiritual explorations of value to those who read this.
Joan Lansberry has also written about monotheism, in A Lesson from History
and again in Polytheism and the Roles of Cooperation and Diversity.
In loving tribute to Divine Venus,
the epitome of all refinement
and beauty throughout the ages,
this page is given as offering by:
The Philosopher's Stone:
A Paramythic Legacy