So I got myself a copy of this book. It’s one of the ones that’s on the reading list for Cherry Hill Seminary’s Community Ministry Certificate. I figure, if I can’t take the courses (…yet), I can at least start doing the readings. So I’ve made a start of it. It’s absolutely an intro book – a bit of a light survey with a solid bibliography to go hunting up further stuff. Short, but it’s chewy none the less. I appreciate how the author has made a point of drawing on examples from a lot of different traditions, and from writers/thinkers/theologians who were both well-established (Starhawk, Graham Harvey, Carol Christ, the Andersons, the Farrars, Judy Harrow, John Casey, Margot Adler) and those who, at the time of this book’s publication (2012) were much more recent additions to the Pagan theological… canon? Can I call it a canon? Let’s go with that. Think Sarah Kate Istra Winter, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Katherine MacDowell, Raven Kaldera, Ivo Dominguez Jr, and Emma Restall Orr, if we want to split that particular hair at roughly the Millennium line). I’m hopeful that, as we head into 2022, she’s got a 10 year anniversary follow-up in the works. Time will tell.
Anyway. The book has Activities at the end of each chapter. And I thought I’d give some of them a go.
Chapter one, which is kind of an introduction of theological terms like “Monism” and “Animism”, “Process Theology” and “Polytheism” (both hard and soft), asks the reader to think on their own theological position(s) and how that position has changed, if it has, over the course of their life.
I would start by saying that my theology was experiential before I ever heard the word “theology” let alone started using it in sentences. Part of why I stopped being christian is that… there wasn’t anything there. Or at least that who was there was definitely not answering my phone calls.
I was about fifteen when I concluded that “Christian” no-longer described me, and that it was time to figure out what I did believe, and ideally to find a faith that could match it.
I was sixteen when I met a God for the first time.
As the prophets say:
And, lo, I became Pagan.
For the first few years – years when I was interacting with mostly Wiccan practitioners, mostly on the proto-internet of the mid-1990s – I probably qualified as either a soft polytheist or a duotheistic polypantheist (one of my profs used that term to describe the embodied, “all the gods are one god and all the goddesses one goddess” theology of Wicca, which she practiced). I’m not sure if I was an animist yet, though I knew that Ancestors were part of my reality pretty much immediately. I met my first (out) hard polytheist when I was in my very early twenties and that, as they say, Really Gave Me Something To Think About.
I think I was probably hitting on my own hard polytheism inside of five years later. Basically, I started meeting other gods (and then meeting other humans who had very specific relationships with specific other gods) and it felt increasingly… rude? to act like they were interchangeable. It was also around this point that I started thinking about the nature of souls and came to my own conclusion that there are multiple parts to a soul, or multiple souls, in a given person (not just human people, fyi, so: definitely an animist by this point). What I think is that, since reincarnation is a thing, and since ancestors who stick around and with-whom you can interact, are also a thing… There must be a spark that jumps from life to life, reincarnating over and over and picking up experiences, as well as a “self” or “memory” soul that develops over the course of a given lifetime and becomes an Ancestor (and sometimes a restless ghost, tbh) upon death.
That said: A lot of the theology I’ve read has been by Feri initiates, even if they were presenting stuff that was okay for laypeople to know. Lee Harrington. T Thorn Coyle. Starhawk. Gede Parma. Orion Foxwood. So maybe it’s not surprising that I’ve picked up.
Everything seems to be built in a series of nested layers – I am an entity unto myself. But I’m also part of the entity that is my micro-bioregion and, from there, my planet. I’m also made up of entities-unto-themselves that are the myriad folk of my gut biota, for example. My planet is made up of all those micro-bioregional entities, and is part of the entity that is my solar system.
And I think that souls must be a bit like that. I am an entity until myself – and so I go to the land of the Ancestors when I die. But I’m also part of the soul of All That Is – the universe has a soul made up of a zillion parts, because the universe is made up of a zillion parts. I think this is a little related to the Feri tradition’s Star Goddess. But it’s also a little related to the Vedic tradition’s Prajapati. It just seems to fit, given how the universe works (by our current understanding of How The Universe Works). All those land spirits, all those Gods of place. They are entities unto themselves. And I think, on some quiet level they are, like me, part of the All That Is.
I’ve met my Godself, my Deep Self, my Shard of the Universe Herself – to use three different ways of referring to Her – I know She’s real, and is an entity unto Herself. But I also know that She is, at the same time, both part of ME – this human body, this human life enlivened by a leaping, experiencing, ever-renewing Spark (is this Fetch? Maybe?) and remembered by/as an Ancestor (is this Talking Self? Maybe?) in times to come – and part of the swimming, blending, universe-soul, All That Is.
So… my Hard Polytheism and my Animism are underpinned by something like Pantheism? Maybe? But it’s a quiet, background pantheism rather than the Pantheism or Panenthism that my Unitarian clients, or the uh… Pananimist Nontheism(?) that my Buddhist clients for that matter, tend to lean towards. It’s what I lean into when I’m trying to find points of theological relating with people who are just weirded out by the reality of “Gods, Plural” and give me funny looks when I want to talk shop. It’s fine, but it feels a bit like hitting a wall, sometimes. It’s much easier to tell people that “my church is in my back yard” or “I take a walk in the woods when I need to commune with the divine” because that sounds hippie-pantheist enough to be non-threatening (I say, presuming that people are likely to be off-put by polytheism and hard animism) than to get into the nitty-gritty of seasonal offerings, deities turning up in the living room (and the bedroom), messages being passed along through humans who are More Sensitive To This Stuff than I am, using an imaginary legal pad to talk to my Godself, and how old an appliance has to be before it starts talking (I think the youngest machine who every told me her name is Janice, my wife’s the sewing machine who would have been… between 40 and 45 at the time? So younger than the Tsukumogami by a substantial margin. I’m kind of… trepedatious about what will happen in 10-20 years when my library starts hitting that age…)
… And that’s kind of where things stand right now.
I’m sure things will continue to evolve – particularly around Animism regarding things like “I am a mammal that eats… at all” and “So much plastic packaging… What do I do with this??” – but I like where my cosmology/theology are at right now. I think, at this point, it’s more likely to deepen than to change direction. I hope that’s how it goes.