In Polytheism, There Are No Good Or Evil Gods

“We are Polytheistic fish swimming in a monotheistic ocean.” (Note 1) This aptly describes the modern propensity to divide Gods into the categories of Good and Evil. Christianity, the dominant Monotheistic religion in the West, separates the world into those two poles. Thus, it becomes a matter of habit for modern Pagans to do the same.

During the time of the Christian assimilation, Polytheistic Gods were demoted to being Servants of Satan, God’s Adversary. An example of this is Nergal of the Babylonian Underworld. He became associated with Christian Hell as the “Chief of Hell’s Secret Police.” However, popular Gods like Brigit of the Irish (Note 2) became assimilated as saints, who possess their attributes.

The Gods who are Chaos Bringers are usually shunned by many modern Pagans. Loki of Norse mythology is a prime example. Since the Norse Sagas were written by a Christian, centuries after the Norse conversion, they have Christian sensibilities embedded in them. This presents problems for many Norse Polytheists, who converted from American Protestant religions. They tend to regard the sagas (i.e. the Lore) as the “Final Authority.” This habit is left over from various Protestant sects, which directed people to rely only on the Scriptures. According to the Sagas, Loki brings about Raganok. Therefore, many of these Polytheists shun Loki as an evil God who is out to destroy the world. However, Loki is more complex and complicated than that simple interpretation.

Even the Monotheistic God Yahweh cannot be simplified. The belief that Yahweh is (only) All-Good and All-Powerful presents many problems. Theologians grapple with the question of “where does evil come from.” Some say that He has a counterpart in Satan but this contradicts Yahweh being All-Powerful. Some say that evil is a part of God’s plan. This contradicts Him being All-Good. The cost of eliminating many of Yahweh’s undesirable attributes have caused many believers to engage in mental gymnastics to explain evil.

Modern Pagans also do mental gymnastics concerning their Gods. Rather than recognize that the Gods are complex Beings, they have separated Them into polar groups. However, a human may encounter different aspects of the same God. Apollo, who is the God of Light and Logic, has a dark side of raping women.

An example of a God with many conflicting facets is Enlil of Mesopotamia. Called Lord Air, He is the power of the storm. Enlil can bring rain to soften the hard earth or winds to topple the date trees. He is the “Great Mountain” who holds the Tablets of Destiny, and sits at the Head of the Assembly of Gods.

The “Hymn of Enlil” explains the Sumerians’ attitude towards this God. As each human understands each God differently, what emerges is a consensus of who the God may be. For me, the Sumerians demonstrate the best way to regard the Gods.

“Enlil in the E-kur (Enlil A)”
“Enlil’s commands are by far the loftiest, his words are holy, his utterances are immutable! The fate he decides is everlasting…

Without the Great Mountain Enlil, no city would be built, no settlement would be founded; Without the Great Mountain, Enlil, Nintud would not kill, she would not strike dead; no cow would drop its calf in the cattle-pen…

Enlil, your ingenuity takes one’s breath away! By its nature it is like entangled threads which cannot be unraveled, crossed threads which the eye cannot follow. Your divinity can be relied on. You are your own counsellor and adviser, you are a lord on your own. Who can comprehend your actions?” (Note 3) (Note 4)

Notes:
Note 1. Edward Butler, Polytheist Philosopher
Note 2. St. Brigid of Kildare
Note 3. The translation source is http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section4/tr4051.htm
Note 4. Many of Enlil’s attributes were transferred to Yahweh.

20 thoughts on “In Polytheism, There Are No Good Or Evil Gods

  1. I think most people see the gods in the grey area. Personally if a god is unjust such as being a rapist, I won’t respect nor worship them. I find modern pagan polytheists not wanting to question the gods or their behaviors at all. Treating them like many do with family members and celebrities with bad behavior. Instead of cutting the cord and condemning these people, they tend to make excuses, ignore, or sometimes are complicit in helping them or hiding such crimes.

    While many say this is the ‘pagan’ way I beg to differ, there’s tons of ancient sources questioning the gods and their existences and their ethics. On the contrary, I find accepting the gods no matter what nor how bad their behavior is, such as being a serial rapist, to be a hard monotheistic Abrahamic trait. They do leaps of logic to accept God no matter how questionable his behavior is. (i.e. ordering the murdering of all uncircumcised boys.)

    People need checks and balances, so do the gods.

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    • You know what’s a “hard Abrahamic trait”? Acting like Sola Scriptura is a thing in Polytheism by saying that the actions of the Gods’ as presented in pieces of literature that have a variety of different goals and purposes are somehow are somehow holy writ and are meant to be taken literally without any kind of examination of what is meant to be conveyed in the original story.

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      • @tetradactyl right. Perhaps you have not seen it. But I have in some recon communities. Had people tell me they were put there by the gods, or take things too literally. Even had someone tell me they wanted the Greek religion to be as organized as the Christian church.

        The thing about polytheism is it is a mix bag of multiple religions and there are absolutely people who take pagan literature too literally. Some because of a previous indoctrination.

        Let me make a clear example since you seem to misunderstand what I am saying…. The Aztec gods, nearly all of them, absolutely had a cult of human sacrifice, child sacrifice, cannibalism, and ritual warfare. This is backed in archeological data and is in their myths. They even had a myth about how banning human sacrifice is wrong. (Myth of Tula, Quetzalcoatl Ce Acatl.)

        Aztecs thought if they stopped sacrificing to the sun than it would stop moving and the world would end.

        How can I not take this literally as it is backed in science? People obviously took it seriously and so did their gods from what they stated. Should I never question the sacrifices? Should I practice human sacrifice? After all if people are sacrificed to the gods they get to go to one of the heavens!

        This, is what I am talking about. There is clearly outdated morality in ancient polytheistic cultures and religions. I mean the Aztecs also stoned adulterers to death.

        I know, most people would like to believe they’re better than Christianity or pagan religions/polytheism is, but after taking anthropology I realized that condescending attitude is complete bullshit when you actually study a religion that is not Abrahamic.

        And where do you think Abrahamic religions came from? God was in a pantheon with other gods. He even had a wife. These things don’t exist in a vacuum.

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      • Let me address pieces of these at a time.

        1. I don’t umbrage with just yourself. There are a lot of people that I think are not going about these religions the right way. So don’t think that I somehow am defending other people that I don’t agree with because I’m not.

        2. You might find this repugnant and you are free to feel however you want on the topic but I am not against human sacrifice or cannibalism in and of themselves. Would I actively advocate for those things in the kind of society that I live in as an American? No but only because I do not believe we are capable of doing those kinds of things in a spiritually clean way due to the very unclean state of our traditions right now. So maybe bringing up the Aztecs would work on someone else who is less ardent but not myself (this may be an indication that you should just drop the conversation upon reading this far because it won’t go anywhere).

        3. I am not an expert on the traditions of the Aztec Empire nor the Nahuatl people but from what I have read I do know that quite a bit of our information comes from the Spanish. So a part of me wonders how much bias is present in those sources considering the goals of the Spanish and that we know they made up things as well (for instance, it’s been debunked that the natives thought Hernan Cortez was Quetzalcoatl). Still, even if some did, does that really mean that this necessitates an entirely literalistic interpretation? Is it impossible that the Aztecs meant that the world would end in a subtler sense as their connection would be sundered from the beings that uphold cosmic order? It might be a logical fallacy to argue from ignorance but I just can’t shake the feeling that these things are being taken for granted.

        4. Actually, believe it or not, I AM aware that Yahweh and company used to be family men. I too read history! Seems like a common trait amongst our kind at the moment. In fact, I have actually even given offerings to Yahweh and Jesus in overtly polytheistic contexts focusing on Their historical syncretisms with Gods like Zeus and Dionysos. So yes, I’m aware those traditions came from somewhere.

        I’m going to be honest. It just really sounds like you’re more frustrated with human beings as opposed to the Gods. Have you considered maybe asking the Gods how They currently feel about the things you’re upset about? You might be surprised by what They have to say

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      • The Aztec wrote some of the sources themselves. There’s even a book with nothing but their experiences of the conquest. (Broken Spears: Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico) They also knew how to read and write. So no, not all accounts are written by their conquerors.

        Their religion also continues into the modern day but isn’t violent like it used to be. (Same with Mayans.) It’s Christianized and there’s a funny story about why that happened.

        Anyway the codex sources are coupled with extensive and exhaustive archaeology on pre-Colombian practices in Mesoamerica. We know how accurate a source is when we compare it to the physical evidence we have found. It’s why the Florentine codex is considered the best primary source on the Aztecs, as it confirms the archaeology rather than denying it.

        And yes, they did have literal interpretations of things. They mixed it with metaphor. In fact, I would say most myths are a mix of literal and symbolic.

        It’s actually both. I have had gods and humans fail me. I am a bit of an agnostic theist, and I don’t believe gods will ever be scientifically or objectively proved. (Not sure I want them to be sometimes. ) So take my opinions with a grain of salt when it comes to matters such as those. However, from a logical view point and because I am an armchair philosopher, I think both gods and people should be questioned.

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      • Well, I mean, did the Gods fail you or was it just not in the cards?

        I hope you don’t mind me saying but yes I am taking what you are saying with a grain of salt. Especially now that you have said you’re an “agnostic theist”. So clearly we’re not on the same page. I am a Polytheist and I mean that in the most literal of ways. There’s many things I could say right now but I think the most important one is that this conversation is moot as there really isn’t anything that would be appreciated by either party (nor does there need to be)

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      • They and the community failed me. Not the pagan community as a mixed bag. But the reconstructionist one in general, though I could just have been around a lot of a-holes. Not really sure on that one. The gods didn’t help in that regard.

        I don’t know if there is a messenger or what have you on WP. But if you’re curious to my experiences with either, feel free to email lilituwind@gmail.com.

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  2. My thoughts are as follows – the Gods, humans, Ancestors, Others exist in the ecosystem of the Cosmos. Because humans have separated themselves from this Cosmos, the ecosystem is not functioning properly. A part of restitution for humans is to repair the damage done by their separations. The Gods can be viewed as a keystone species, without Whom there can be no ecosystem. Within all ecosystems, there are balances and if you will checks on everyone. Once the humans repair their damage, the normal balances will return. It is a web of everyone and everything, with the liminal places – the nodes of the threads.

    As for reading the past, it is a different country. I can read Shakespeare but there are nuances and assumptions that he made that I haven’t a clue about. For example, the horror of regicide in MacBeth or the death of Hamlet’s father “unshriven”. I do not live in a monarchy and am not Christian. I can appreciate what is conveyed but cannot fully understand the subtext.

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    • Let me just make something clear:

      I am in no way agreeing with anything Alexis said. My comment is in retort to her saying we shouldn’t worship some Gods because They are “rapists”. Anyone who takes that stance clearly does not understand the role of literature in our religions and how these pieces represent a plethora of different biases that would never be taught or thought about in an organic setting amongst the vast majority of the common people in ancient times. Not to mention that the idea that we humans need to hold the Gods accountable (a group of beings who are operating on a totally different level that is unlike ours in any way) is just such a backwards and anthropocentric way of viewing things. That’s like saying we need to hold trees or amoebas or elephant seals accountable. Their lives and their worlds are totally different from ours. Who are we to judge? Plus, how do the family and friends of those Gods think about people not worshipping Their loved ones? The Gods form families that are constantly playing off of each other in the grand scheme of things. They’re a package deal. If you disrespect one you might end up disrespecting all of Them. The Gods are more than just stories. Walk into any one of the sanctuaries and you would have seen Gods being worshipped together that anyone who reads the myths would think wouldn’t be able to stand each other. Case in point: Pan and the Nymphs. If Pan is such a scumbag as I’m sure Alexis would say then why do the Nymphs want Him anywhere near Themselves? It’s not the like the Nymphs are powerless or anything. Just ask Hylas or anyone who had nympholepsy back in the day. Though considering that maybe Their all in on it and are co-conspirators? Though I think it’s more likely that people like Alexis need to put Edith Hamilton down and start lifting offerings up to the heavens so maybe they can actually get to know the Gods

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      • One can read the myths as a beginning point into deeper mysteries. You can take the myth of Hades and Persephone from the view point of Hades or Persephone or Demeter or an on-looker. You could probably set up an imaginary trial with each testifying, etc. The myths are there to dive into things.

        I wasn’t reacting to either of your comments. Just offering a third point of view.

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      • Yes, myths are the containers of mysteries. But if we sit here and get caught up in the forest then we ain’t never going to see the trees.

        Actually, I’m glad you bring up Hades and Persephone because it brings up another problem: half the time anyone rails about the Gods they don’t even get the stories right. In the main version that most people go off for that story Hades asks Zeus if He can marry Persephone and Zeus allows it. Hades did nothing wrong. This is how you were supposed to go about this issue in the time and place that people learning this story lived in. The individual in this scenario who could be said to be doing something wrong is Zeus for not telling Demeter that He had betrothed Persephone to Hades. But as the father of the bride, it’s Zeus’ decision. Hades was literally just doing what He was lawfully allowed to do. But does anyone care? No. They want to blame Hades. Does this mean we should blame Zeus? No. Because there IS a mystery to this story in all meanings of the word. The exact meaning would have been demonstrated in the Eleusinian Mysteries but since we don’t and never will have the original mysteries then it’s lost to us forever. When you focus on the story you are missing half of the story!

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      • @ TetraCalm down, I worship Lilith. But I have no inclination to never question a god or worship anything because it exists. Any god who demands worship unquestioningly, is probably not one I would want to worship.

        Btw I came from the Aztec reconstructionist religion and practiced hard polytheism with the gods. I used to practice it for about a decade. I also never read Hamilton or care to. I simply don’t have unquestioned faith anymore nor will I put my faith in gods who I don’t think deserve it. I am not required to believe anything or in any god just because they exist. If you want to follow a god without question, so be it. That’s on you.

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      • No thank you. I won’t “calm down”.

        You’re free to do whatever you want. I don’t care. But what I do care about is that you are spreading ideas that are pretty insidious. Or at least I find them to be insidious. Just as you are free to do what you want, so am I.

        Lilith, eh? Interesting. Forgive my saying but I think that explains a lot

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      • Not entirely sure you can rebel against a “community” that has a hard time of actually working together or even coming to a consensus on basic tenets of belief and practice but okay

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      • Not the community per se but God or some gods in general is what I meant. Yeah we used to have an old saying about the diversity of the pagan community;it’s like herding cats. Though someone remarked if you open a can of cat food, all the cats will run towards it. 😛

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      • I would prefer if we never speak again. Anyone “rebelling” against the Gods is not someone I am interested in having discourse with as that is antithetical to all that I stand for. Please respect my decision

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      • Ah that is sweet. Not being sarcastic either. I think your demeanor is rather nice and refreshing. I understand where you’re coming from, I used to be a bit like that. I am actually happy to see niceness when it comes to such things.

        I do believe in gods. I just don’t think I need to worship all of them or respect all of them. Not all of them are for me. (There is no one size fits all in polytheism. ) i am not hostile to all god or a majority. Just certain individuals. But I can understand your reasoning. I do hope you have a blessed day. I enjoyed our conversations. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for keeping things civil. In matters of religion, people do have intense discussions.

    I understand about recon communities. Some are literal, some are play acting, and most get caught up in what the ancients did or not do. In my view, Polytheism should move beyond recon since it needs to be a living, breathing religion.

    As for Gods, the Romans had a contractual agreement with Them. It was a patron/client relationship. Each would do for the other, that they could not do for themselves. However, if a Roman could not get satisfaction from the relationship, they ended it, and moved on. There was a sense of freedom in the relationship that did not tie the two into an ironclad one.

    As humans, we experience the Gods differently. Each culture experienced their Gods differently. Getting into the thicket means delving into thorny issues of are the Gods the same for every culture, do the Gods arise from a particular culture, can They evolve and change or are They unchanging. The list goes on.

    I have written about my relationship with Apollo as a Shadow God. We have a difficult one, but I have found it to be useful.

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