Thoughts, lessons, and theology from an eclectic witch from a varied background.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Question Time: What is the difference between hard and soft polytheism?

New feature here on The Veiled Witch: Question Time! You guys give me a question and on the last Tuesday of the month, I will do my best to answer it. This week's question comes from Kelly J.! She says:

I'd be especially interested in hearing about the differences between hard and soft polytheism.

I would like to first reference the great oracle known as Wikipedia. We find the term polytheism comes from Greek and originates in the term invented by the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria polytheoi - literally: many gods. Philo of Alexandria coined the term in the midst of arguing with the Greeks over religion. He had felt that the polytheists were practicing a false religion (thus the term for a while has been colloquially considered synonymous with idol worshipers). 

The term dropped out of usage until it was revived in the 16th century. It still had many of the same implied connotations given that Europe was predominantly monotheistic at the time. Modern usage has been the subject of debate in some circles because anthropologists and sociologists are having a bit of difficulty determining if the major branches of modern pagan belief are true polytheism or some form of pantheism. Wikipedia does a far better job of summing up that debate then I can at the moment.

Hard polytheism views the gods as distinct entities.They have unique traits and are individual personalities. Within the community of people who are hard polytheists, there are folks who will reject the gods of other pantheons as being false. 

Soft polytheism does not have as rigid dividing lines between deities. In many ways, the gods are viewed as aspects of a more general deity/supreme being. The most notable of pagan faiths that practices soft polytheism is classical British Wicca.

1 comment:

  1. I lean towards Christopher Penczak's feelings on this question. "While I whole heartedly believe the gods are as real and individual as you and I, I also don’t believe that we are all that real or individual. Much like the simple summations of quantum physics, there are times when it behaves as a particle, and time when it behaves as a wave. I think that philosophy applies not only to the subatomic world, but to gods and spirits, as well as people and all of nature."

    I truly do see the gods as separate entities, but being a panentheist, to me they are only as separate from each other as we are from them. In a practical day-to-day sense it helps to see them and work with them as individuals, just as it does to work with humans that way, while embracing the gnosis that we're all connected enough to be part of one, vast, pulsing Is.