(My addition to the current conversation that’s growing at My Polytheism. If you’ve not looked into the project, I highly recommend it.)
My polytheism began when I was a little girl and my father expressed that the trees and everything around us had a spirit. We were wandering around a pond the land we owned, and I remember the truth in this settling into the very marrow of my bones. There was a give and take I placed there even then.
If we take, we must give back. If we give, we will receive, though it will always be more of what we need than necessarily what we want.
My polytheism grew with me. Even now as I grow and get comfortable in the space of adulthood and motherhood, it grows as I do. I am a microcosm of the nature of the universe around me. My bones are the stone under the soil of my skin. My breath is the spark of life and the wind in my hair. My actions ripple out into the macrocosm of it all.
This is why the wind in the trees and the summer cicadas’ singing feels like home, like family, like peace. Like Gods.
This is why I struggle with saying we must put the Gods first, because the thread that ties everything together is a God. If everything is tied together, if that current is a God, then we all are the vessels of sacredness, like a lamp holding oil. We are all bits of Divine. We are capable of burning bright and wild or gently and dim. There is really no wrong way to be a flame for the Gods. There is only sustainable and unsustainable.
The Gods are within us as we go about our daily lives. I recognize that the Gods are individuals just as we are. I understand that serving the people, building our communities, and honoring the needs of others is, in fact, putting the Gods first.
We cannot build a temple without a foundation. In a history that has been constructed on the backs of suffering, it is our duty to see to it that our builders are healthy, happy, and strong. That we don’t exploit those who depend on us in whatever capacity it is we fill in the community. That we take care of each other. That we honor our differences, and we keep in mind that it’s both healthy and expected for there to be variations.
Rome, as they say, was not built in a day and neither are sustainable traditions for the Gods. And the piety of European ancestors included caring for the members of our families and our later communities and civilizations. This is the evolution of piety in the hands of humans, for we approach the Gods not as equals but filling a needed role all the same.
My polytheism falls into the constant ebb and flow of the life in my home. On the days I am tired and not sure I’m interested in keeping the hearth shrine, I’m joined by a young child requesting we offer to the Gods. On the days I’m not sure I’m thankful, she is there like a gift to remind me that I am. We continue to feel out the world of the Gods around us on the constantly shifting clay soil as we encourage the roots to sink in deeper. Our work is that of a horticulturalist carefully tending the starts brought over the ocean from our Ancestor’s lands of the World Tree, assuring that the growth is strong and the roots have taken hold.
My polytheism celebrates the simple joys. We offer our favorite foods of both the New and Old Worlds – Tomatoes, peaches, and cornmeal. Soy beans for an Ancestor, who dedicated his life to the plant. Catfish to the one who was said to know the Missouri River better than any other fisherman, a legend in his neck of the woods. We celebrate the birthdays of those who came before us, because they never fully go away. We mark the anniversary of their deaths, bittersweet that they have left us but overjoyed they have gone to the Ancestors that allow us to still have a relationship with them.
My polytheism is pulling over to the side of the road when meeting a funeral procession. It is flowers on the graves of my Beloved Dead on Memorial Day. It is hours upon hours of combing through French documents year after year in hopes of finding a clue to where my family tree originated from.
It is not very interested in worrying too heavily with breaking away from cultural thought that is steeped in a history of monotheism simply because it was from a monotheistic history. It’s more interested in finding the truth and reason behind those cultural moorings, deciding if they matter and pertain to my life now, and tossing away what holds no use to me in the present. At the end of the day I recognize that plants grow stronger and better when put in soil with some manure in it for lack of a more graceful metaphor. My Ancestor’s beliefs, those of some of the first ministers and religious revolutionaries, were beliefs that their lives revolved completely around. My approach is firmly rooted in approaching those Ancestors in a way that allows us to compromise. To simply throw them completely away isn’t necessary as long as I am aware of the hows, whys, and where of their origin. Throwing everything away feels like impiety to the branches that connect me back to the source of mankind.
My polytheism is unapologetically animistic. I have laid my ear to the exposed rocks of the river bluffs to hear their whispers. I have experienced the purifying and healing gifts of the great rivers flowing through the Midwest. I have found peace while having tea with the plants I tend. As an artist, I have breathed the life of spirits into the pieces I create, and the spirits come wishing to have their stories told in paint, in metal, in clay.
It understands that nature isn’t here for me. And sometimes it’s beautiful. And sometimes it’s brutal.
My polytheism informs every part of my life. From the broom sweeping across the floors of my home to the way I go about making dinner for my family to the prayer of “Drive safely” each time one of mine go out on an errand or away for the day. My family of blood, my family of choice, each relationship within it is sacred and important, and without them I would fail to thrive or have full purpose. Of that I am not ashamed. For that I am thankful.
But the most important part of my polytheism is that it’s open to new ideas and experiences. Rituals change. Observance of a set religious calendar waxes and wanes, starts anew, some things lingering some things losing meaning in the environment I am in. My own understanding of the way things are is humbly changing as new evidence is brought to me, molded by the hands of my Gods and co-religionists in their bravery of talking about their own experiences openly, willing to speak vulnerably and honestly.
Willing to put their necks out.
Willing to brave the fickle waters of our community.
Sometimes we’re on the same boat. Sometimes we wave at each other in passing. Sometimes we break against rocks or get pulled under by an undercurrent. Sometimes we try to sink each other. But we’re still on the same water, and ignoring that weakens the strength that many spirits can build in order to keep us all afloat.