My Polytheism: A History, A Process of Becoming

My polytheism is based on historical practices, but not chained to them. My polytheism has a vast matrix of gods, only some of whom I worship. I am a Hellenist.

I learned about polytheism as a toddler when I first picked up the Book of Greek Myths by the D’Aulaires and Pegasus, the film by Mia Farrow and Earnest Troost. I learned about it through the books and documentaries I watched on Egypt. I understood polytheism when I visited the Egyptian section of the Field Museum of Chicago and saw the coins slipped carefully between the glass and the wall where the icon of Bastet rested — offerings from nameless people — and added my own pennies. I learned about it when watching Jai Santoshi Maa and reading The Egypt Game. In Don’t Eat the Pictures!, I learned about the dead.

My polytheism started in fourth grade when I tried to worship Bastet — when I tried to replace every instance of oh my god that I thought with oh Bastet as I walked the three blocks home from school. I became aware of, but did not understand, what ideology meant and how difficult it was to break free from things I had been taught since infancy.

In fifth grade, my polytheism became socially acceptable: My parents brought me to my first circle in Hannibal, Missouri. I spent years learning mainstream paganism with its God-Goddess dualism, uncomfortable with the sexual imagery and still highly puritanical inside. As a teen, I learned before a procession to the maypole that half of ritual was performance, and I wore a small, soft smile as I brought the offerings to the hole to be poured in.

My polytheism had social backlash, too: In seventh grade, the bullying when the girl next door revealed my religion to everyone at school left me so scarred that I started having mild panic attacks when I realized at sixteen that I was attracted to girls. (I remember thinking, I can’t be in another minority. I can’t deal with it if I have one more thing. This is enough. I can be straight. What if I am bisexual? This means that I have a choice.) My polytheism was a burden outside of the home, a real-world duality where I could write and engage as a young leader on the one hand, yet be socially ostracized on the other. There were no places where I felt safe.

When I was 20, I joined the intelligentsia and incorporated research into my polytheism because I converted to Hellenism. My polytheism suddenly had an older history and a specific pantheon. It had trolls and flame wars and disparate communities and everything else that is good and horrible about the Internet at the same time. Apollon, who presides over colonies, colonized my mind with the mental foundation required to worship many gods. Still, my polytheism was a secret that I could not mention on resumes despite having a leadership role in college. All around me, academics started writing theologies of polytheism because they seemed to know that I needed something to say when people asked me about it.

My polytheism has a constellation of religious obligations that are complicated and interesting. My polytheism has the monthly Noumenia sacrifices of frankincense. I must mediate the push-and-pull of personal connection to gods and the household worship responsibilities learned from Labrys and the nine years of notes I have taken while reading articles and books. To support my polytheism, I have an intricate day-by-day digital recurring to-do list that tells me what I have to sacrifice and when. My polytheism is practiced in small moments throughout the day.

I had an instinct when I apostatized as a child that polytheism wasn’t just about worshipping gods, but learning how to think about gods. My polytheism requires a constant interrogation of cultural and social structures, Christian privilege, and the impact of imperialism and colonialism. My polytheism incorporates a belief in blood crimes committed against indigenous peoples. I believe that the Erinyes punish the unjust and that they can be pacified through purification. My polytheism respects practitioners of Abrahamic religions while recognizing that the power structures in the West have latticed Christian privilege into themselves. I believe that these structures must be dismantled, yet have faith that it can be done compassionately.

My polytheism has gods who preside over professions, and I believe that my professional work is sacred: Athene and Hermes do watch over the academy. My polytheism incorporates modern offerings, but works off of tried-and-true historical ritual structures because my polytheism is based on the core premises of Hellenic reconstruction. Hellenism tells me that whenever I have a fight with a friend, or whenever I don’t know what to do in relationships, that I should make new friends carefully, but do not abandon them once made. In practice, I do deep breathing and step away from the computer whenever anyone in the community upsets me. I UPG Hermes as the god who presides over friendship, and when I pray, I call him my friend.

My polytheism separates out social and cultural structures of Antiquity from core religious practices because this is not 5th century Athens. I see the messiness of gods and pantheons, the push and pull of trade in antiquity and the new temples established around the Mediterranean to gods of different cultures. I believe that polytheism is a permeable membrane and that the core practices alone matter when people proclaim religious identities. I believe that I can attend a Wiccan ritual, Hindu temple, or Buddhist service without threatening my core religious identity.

My polytheistic theology is embedded as much in my creative writing as it is in my personal practice because I see gods as circles without centers, ever at the periphery of other gods, ever emanating out of themselves, ever-shifting in the eyes of the observers worshipping them. I believe that in addition to theologians and religious leaders, we need writers, artists, and community-builders. I want my writing and my work to give back to the community just by existing.

My polytheism has compassion for other polytheists, even those with whom I disagree for political or ideological reasons. I believe that bullying is wrong because I have suffered bullying, and part of becoming a community is learning how to live with one another. My polytheism makes space for racial and social justice because inclusivity and the polis are important to me. My polytheism honors supplicants. I believe that civic participation is a sacred act under Athene’s aegis.

Above all, the ideologies behind my practices are a process that started when I was a child. The history of my religious practices within Hellenism is not the same as anyone else’s, even if there are parallels, and I think that this diversity in Hellenism and how we have come to it is just as important as the things we know we need to do to advocate for and defend polytheistic religions of all varieties in a global constellation of societies and cultures. 

That is all. ♨️🐑

(Note: This is in response to the #mypolytheism thing starting up on the Internet.)

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