Hi, I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and I like labels.
It’s very simple when you’re a mainline Christian and can just name your denomination and have everybody recognize it. I was an Episcopalian, an Anglican. It had a lot of syllables, but nobody argued (much) about what it meant. (Argument came from other Episcopalians who didn’t want any openly gay clergy. I assume they had no problem with neurotic, closeted ones, of which the Episcopal Church used to have a large number.)
I celebrated Lughnasad, which for me involved actually worshipping Lugus and Rosmerta with prayers and offerings, including an oatmeal stout and some corn on the cob as a nod to the grain harvest the gods have provided. Not surprisingly (at least, I wasn’t surprised), I subsequently had a bout of “druid fever”, wanting once again to be a druid and train with an order and have a nice white robe and a nice clean label. Most neopagans, I daresay, have a pretty good idea of who druids are and what they do. Even if there’s a divide between druids who look mainly to the Druid Revival of the eighteenth century for inspiration and those who look to the ancient druids of Ireland, Britain, and Gaul, there’s still a lot of common ground there.
But I’m probably not going to join a druid order and train with it, or change my spiritual practice to conform to an ideal of druidry so that I can wear that white robe and that clear label. There’s actually quite a lot of overlap between what I do as a polytheist and what I believe a druid is and does; creative inspiration, poetry, and writing play a large role in both. But the only label that seems to stick to me effectively is that word polytheist.
It’s an awkward word. It has a lot of syllables, and people seem unclear on what it means. Merriam-Webster’s “belief in or worship of more than one god” is clear enough to me, but some people who call themselves polytheists define the gods in ways that preclude actual worship. I don’t think you can worship an archetype, a fictional character, a constellation of forces; at least, I know I can’t. I know a lot of people in fandom who have very intense relationships with fictional characters (and the actors who portray them), but it’s not worship, even if stories about those characters perform a meaning-bearing function in people’s lives akin to myth or scripture.
For me being a polytheist means primarily that I don’t define myself by what I believe or even what I do, so much as by what my relationships are. I’m a polytheist. I worship many gods. Well, which ones? At last count, Antinous, the Tetrad++, much of the Roman pantheon, and a number of Hellenic, Orphic, and Romano-Celtic deities. Plus some of my ancestors and some spirits. I don’t worship Captain America, I just have his shield on a t-shirt. (I do occasionally thank the gods for Chris Evans, however. Sometimes specifically for the films in which he appears semi-nude.)
The longer I practice polytheism, the less useful I find the writing of pagans who aren’t also in relationship with the gods, gods to whom they are devoted, gods whom they worship. I wouldn’t read a sex manual written by a life-long celibate, and I don’t see why I should take seriously any theologies by people who don’t believe in the theoi. It’s helpful that people put labels on their blogs; I know if someone calls themselves a humanist pagan or an atheopagan that they have nothing to say to me because I’m not their intended audience. Nor are they mine; I’m writing for people who, if not polytheists already, are at least open in mind and heart to the possibility that the gods are real and alive and that relationship with them is rational, worthwhile, and life-enriching.
Is it a boycott if you don’t shop where the merchant isn’t selling anything you need? Perhaps not, but it certainly makes for a catchy blog title.