Polytheism: Views on Good and Evil


Pazuzu from the Louvre

One belief in Christianity is that the material world is inherently evil. People live in a “fallen world.” Therefore, the cosmos is a battleground between the forces of good and evil. The Devil tempts people to sin to separate them from God. A Christian’s only hope is through the Blood of Christ.

When the Church was assimilating Pagans (Note 1), they cast the various Gods as spawns of Satan to discourage belief in Them. However, because of their popularity, some Gods became saints such as Bridgit. Eventually, the Polytheist pantheons were divided into “good” and “evil” Gods. (Note 2)

In contrast, Polytheism regards the universe (including the material world) to be whole. Humans, Gods, Spirits and Others live together in a cosmic ecosystem. What each one does effects the others and their respective worlds. The web of the cosmos has each thread crossing another one or several. It is a tapestry of wholeness. Gods, Spirits, Others and humans meet at the nodes, the liminal places.

An example of this rich complexity is Pazuzu, the demon featured in “The Exorcist” (1973). This Mesopotamian demon (Note 3) is the son of Hanbi, the King of the Evil Wind Demons. Although Pazuzu brings the Wind of Famine, He protects against the West Wind of Pestilence. Meanwhile, newborns and pregnant women are protected by Pazuzu as well. (In Babylon, women wore amulets of his head for protection.)

As I noted, Christians saw demons as evil. Demons like Pazuzu, who have a connection with the Underworld, became agents of Satan, God’s Adversary. Thus the Pagan Underworld was transformed into the Christian Hell, with the Gods and demons as tormentors.

Gaius Florius Aetius, Priest of Apollo, writes in his essays on good and evil (Note 4) that the Gods can be thought in terms of order or chaos. He notes that Plato wrote about destructive forces that oppose the ordering known as Logos. In the Roman Polytheistic sense, order creates civilization, chaos the wilderness.

Aetius writes, “Paganism (Note 5) always revolves around the idea of change. For a Pagan perspective, creation exists always, it merely changes its status and herein lies a hint to the Pagan concept of Evil. There are two different kinds of order, or chaos versus order…The world before the Gods is the original state of the cosmos as a place hostile to life and to civilization…the Gods now come into being and make a new space inside the chaotic cosmos, as a place of order and harmony, wherein life and culture can develop.” (Note 6)

Aetius grapples with the role of the Gods of Chaos. He writes “Seth (Set, Egyptian God) symbolizes the other, the alien, the enemy and the disturbance of harmony, that which is anti-natural. His very existence is contrary to the natural order.” He continues, “Seth sheds some light on the Pagan idea of Evil, as He is the non-defined animal, like one who would not want to be one thing or another, not decide, while culture and personal development requires decision.” (Note 7)

In my reading, Set (Seth) is not evil in the Christian sense. What this Egyptian God does is to ensure that order does not stagnate or overwhelm the cosmos. Raven Kaldera, Northern Tradition shaman, expands on this by explaining that the “troublemaking” Gods have a sacred duty to battle complacency and extreme order.

Because everything is a combination of order and chaos, balance between the two is essential for life. Balance is harmony of the two, for within chaos is order, and vise versa. The excess of order is oppression, the excess of chaos is anarchy.

Note 1. The Church coerced the conversion of many European Pagans.

Note 2. This is reflected in how modern Pagans regard Underworld or Trickster Gods. Loki of the Norse is viewed as “evil.” Therefore, when approaching various Pantheons of Gods, be mindful of the unconscious bias of “good” or “evil” Gods.

Note 3. In Mesopotamian nomenclature, “demons” are human-hybrids. “Monsters” are the combinations of animals. Pazuzu, a demon, has a human body with scales, a penis of a snake, the talons and wings of a bird.

Note 4. His essays are “Demons, Spirits and Miasma,” “The Roles of Evil in Paganism,” The Gods of Madness – Danger of the Logo-Centric Western Culture,” and “Concept of Evil.”

Note 5. He refers to Polytheism as Paganism.

Note 6. Gaius Florius Aetius, “Schola Aetii – Reformed Roman Paganism.” P. 126.

Note 7. Gaius Florius Aetius, “Schola Aetii – Reformed Roman Paganism.” P. 127.

Works Used:
Gaius Florius Aetius, “Schola Aetii – Reformed Roman Paganism.”
Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.”
Tess Dawson, “The Horned Altar”
Thorkild Jacobsen, “The Treasures of Darkness.”
Raven Kaldera, “Dealing with Deities.”

Not All War Gods Are the Same

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Modern Pagans tend to regard the Gods as an aspect of a singular entity. For example, the Goddess religions treat the Goddesses of various pantheons as traits of the Great Goddess. Meanwhile, Nigel Pennick in “Pagan Book of Days” writes “The month of March is sacred to the Roman God Mars, whose equivalents are the Greek Ares and the old sky God of central and northern Europe, Tiu or Tiwaz. In northern and western Europe, this deity is known as the Celtic God Teutates and as the Norse God Tyr.” Pennick considers these disparate Gods to be the same “God of War.”

Lumping different Gods together is a long ingrained habit of modern thought. Living in today’s monotheistic culture indoctrinates people into thinking that only one God has ever existed.

Also, people have separated from the natural world through first Christianity and then by science. They now live in their minds, which is a monoculture in itself.

By divorcing people from their Ancestors (and later the natural world), Christianity forced Pagans to give up everything in order to be dependent on the church. It was a concerted effort by the early Church Fathers to flip the perception of how the natural order of life should be. They established arbitrary structures of how humans and the universe should be.

Eventually, the forced perception of nature being dependent on humans created cracks within Christianity. With the Protestant Reformation came the rigid dependence on the written “Word of God.” This was first formulated by Martin Luther as the sola scriptura (by scripture alone). Religious authority should come only from the Bible, which is God’s Word. Now among many Pagans, the written word is now the final arbitrator of truth.

Since the only thing that mattered became the written word, oral traditions were neglected,. This further extracted people from their world, with the Dead becoming figments of the imagination. This resulted in absolute reliance on the “lore” being evident among today’s Pagans. However, religion grows and changes through interaction with the natural world.

Meanwhile, Gnostic Christianity introduced the idea that humans with their own divine spark are trapped in physical bodies. Once gnosis (personal knowledge) is awakened, the divine spark will go free. Gnostics uphold that the material world is suspect and polluted. This theology evolved into the modern belief of the New Age religions: “We are spiritual beings in human bodies.” This detaches the person from the material world completely.

However, the idea that all “War Gods are the same” runs counter to nature. Consider English, which is used as a world-wide language. There are differences in dialects among native English speakers. For example, in the United States, “soda” and “pop” can mean the same thing – i.e. a “soft drink.” But “soda” can also mean “tonic water.” Asking for a “soda” could either get one a “soft” or a “hard” drink, depending on the region.

In my experience, the less people know or want to know, the more they tend to lump things together. Take snakes for example. There are nineteen families of these reptiles. However, most people think that all snakes are the same i.e. “a snake is a snake is a snake.” Not knowing the differences between snakes can kill you. The king and coral snakes resemble each other with yellow, black, and red stripes. The bands of the two species are in a different order. One is a venomous snake, while the other is a constrictor. Expounding on that further, it is critical to be able to identify the species of venomous snakes. The anti-venom serum (venom antiserum) used to treat snake bites is unique to each species. A cobra’s venom differs from a coral snake’s venom. Since time is critical in stopping the spread of the venom, a prompt identification is crucial.

Returning to the notion that “War Gods are the same,” it now makes little sense to think that. Even within a particular pantheon, the War Gods are all different. For example, the Babylonians have Inanna, the Goddess of Love, riding into battle leading the armies. Ningirsu (Ninurta), Lord Plough, is a God of War and also a God of Farmers. Nergal, whose symbol is the fly, brings death, pestilence and war.

The modern world has rendered humans from nature. Once people expected to encounter dragons and fairies when they went out their front door. Now divorced from nature, humans have forgotten their place in the web of life. The ecosystem of the cosmos includes humans as well as Ancestors, Gods, and Others. To reenter the ecosystem is to see the Gods as disparate Beings.

Further Reading:
Claude Lecouteux, “The Return of the Dead”
Nigel Pennick, “The Pagan Book of Days”
Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, “When God Had a Wife”

The Gods Are Not Inventions


In the “An Atheist’s History of Belief,” Matthew Kneale subtitles his book: “Understanding Our Most Extraordinary Invention.” The author posits that the Gods were invented by humans to keep bad things from happening. Eventually this developed into a transactional exercise where the Gods would do for you as you do for them. The traditional method to do this transaction was ritual. Kneale sees that the core of religious belief is trust in these invented Gods (or God}.

He writes, “Religions are created out of the fear of being alone and in the dark. So I suspect there will be a few more invented world views. What fears will they answer? This will depend on us. It will depend on how safe our world feels.” By using the word “invention,” he captures the problem of why modern people have trouble believing in the Gods at all.

What is ironic is that monotheism itself is an invented religion. Belief in only one God does not come naturally to humans. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince writes in “When God Had a Wife,” “In fact it was the invention of monotheism, with the will of the masses being overturned and the elite priesthood and prophets triumphing.” The authors continue, “The notion not just appealing to one god alone, but that there was only one god to appeal to in the first place would have been downright nonsensical…They must have felt hollowed out spiritually…The loss of the pantheon of deities caused real confusion — and real suffering.”  (emphasis – the authors’)

Furthermore, Kneale displays a common underlying assumption of modern people. He assumes a linear mythos – “when and how were the Gods created.” Modern people see the world in terms of finite time and space – everything has to have a beginning and an ending. The modern scientific view is of the march of progress, a straight upwards arrow to the future. The basis for this comes from the Christian mythos when Christ comes to establish His Reign on earth, thereby ending the old world. In contrast, the multiple creation stories of the Sumerians, and other Polytheistic cultures point to “what is,” and not “what will be” or “what was.”

This linear logos devolves into humans creating the Gods by their own powers of the mind. Stemming from Kneale’s inventions, the Gods become “facets” of the One God. Eventually, these facets fall away leaving only the One God, who later becomes fiction Himself. Therefore the difference between many Gods, one God, or nothing lies only with humans. The human perception governs all reality.

Using the concept of “invention,” some Pagans theorize that the accumulation of belief in the minds of believers create the Gods. Therefore, these Gods can be replaced by science since it provides solutions to problems, that religion once answered. Once more, the Gods are reduced to fictions.

Judith O’Grady in “God Speaking” provides an alternative point of view. As she puts it – Gods dwell in Gods’ Land, and will manifest Themselves from time to time. O’Grady writes, “the in-dwelling Spirit does not come at the behest or exhortation of the human mind nor does the human create the Spirit. The Spirit must have some reason sufficient to Hirself for entering a place; Ze must “want” to.”

Further Reading:

Matthew Kneale, “An Atheist’s History of Belief”
Judith O’Grady, “Pagan Portals: God Speaking”
Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, “When God Had a Wife”

All Roads Lead to Multiple Gods


One of my guilty pleasures is reading Christian historical fiction. In the novels, I often encounter the basic assumptions that the authors make about religion. They assume a world of only One God. The main character grapples with being moral but not believing in God. The author has their Christian characters convince the moral non-religious person to embrace Christianity. Their argument usually involves being forgiven for their sins. Now, the non-religious person feels empty since they are focusing on their bad deeds. Once the main character embrace Christ, they bubble over with joy. Their life is complete with their new belief in God.

For settings in ancient times, the authors portray the main characters as frustrated with their Gods not responding to them. Usually these Gods are presented as “inert,” unless they are dealing with Hebrew-Canaanite period (when those Gods are evil (Note 1)). In dialogues between a monotheist and the polytheist, the focus is on the “deaf” Gods. The monotheist gives reasons why the Gods are either dead, fiction, or false (or all three). Then they proclaim that the Christian God is the only living God. Moreover, He is the only God who cares for people.

What shines through Christian fiction is the desire to be true to the One God. The author tries to try to keep other Gods at bay by bringing up reasons to deny their existence. No matter how many times the characters declaim the Gods, the tension still lies just below the surface. Since the Gods keep bubbling up, they have to be shunted away or declared false.

Meanwhile, the people who believe in the Sacred Feminine (Goddess) are also practicing a form of monotheism. The roots of this tradition derive from rebelling against Christian monotheism and then rewriting it. The result is still one entity but now female instead of male.

Tanishka in “Goddess Wisdom Made Easy,” writes “Just as there are a variety of life forms in nature, the Goddess path seeks to honor the divine in every facet of existence, including us. This is why it’s considered a polytheistic religion (having many deities). It recognizes the many aspects of the God and Goddess that comprise the whole.” (Note 2) From Tanishka’s statement, it seems that monotheism has become ingrained in the mind. However, she does acknowledge the propensity to have more than one God.

But as I have noted, the Gods are bubbling below the surface of people’s consciousness. The natural impulse towards polytheism always asserts itself. This is why people bat away certain entities such as angels or the Devil as false. Fandoms of pop culture engage many people with multiple powerful entities (such as Darth Vader). Meanwhile, Pop culture Paganism has made Gods of superheroes and villains. Medieval scholar Claude Lecouteux says that people’s belief in fairies, sprites and others is the genetic link that modern people have to the Dead and the Spirits of the Land.

G.B. Marian in their blog, “Desert of Set” notes that monotheism strongly enjoined against “spiritual adultery.” They writes that after the Babylonian Captivity, did “Yahwehism” become popular. The priests who wrote the Old Testament were religious exclusivists. These biases became embedded into the religions that later became Christianity and Islam. Furthermore, the priests of Yahweh claimed that the people of Israel suffered because they still followed “false” Gods like Ashtoreth.

Why only have one God? Why live in a monochromatic world of grey? Why live in the poverty of monotheism when the richness of polytheism awaits? Embrace a divine multiplicity (Note 3). Life is better than simply denying Gods or trying to disprove them.

According to Lecouteux, personal names once connected people to the Universe. He writes, “It was believed that it (the person’s name) enabled its owner to play a part in the entire cosmos, and of course it bound the person to the spirits — both of the dead and the land — and to the gods.” (Note 4). We can still be a part of the cosmos, playing our role.

Note 1. According to Christian traditions, the Canaanite Gods are child killers and must be destroyed. However, I cannot find traces of the child burning cult that is described in the Old Testament.

Note 2. Tanishka, “Goddess Wisdom Made Easy.” (pg. 56-57). Obviously the author has no idea what Polytheism is.

Note 3. Kyaza coined this term for her community blog – multiple divinities and multiple traditions. This blog is at https://divinemultiplicity.com/
Note 4. Claude Lecouteux, “The Hidden History of Elves & Dwarves.” p. 105.

Works Used.
Lecouteux, Claude, “The Hidden History of Elves & Dwarves.” Trans. Jon E. Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2018
Tanishka, “Goddess Wisdom Made Easy.” Hay House: Carlsbad (CA). 2017.

“Double Hearths” in Polytheism

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Readers of this blog will note that lately I have been writing more about the Gods of Mesopotamia. I have a cultus for Them as well as for the Roman Gods. In modern Polytheism, this is referred to as “Keeping a Double Hearth.” That means following two disparate pantheons of Gods. It often entails keeping separate altars and festival calendars.

The concept of the “double hearth” probably comes from Monotheistic thinking. Since many modern Polytheists are from Monotheistic cultures, they often frame religious terms as learned in that religion. Embedded in Monotheism is the concept of “spiritual adultery.” This is the following of Gods other than Yahweh, even if Yahweh is included. Spiritual adultery breaks the covenant with Yahweh that is the center of Monotheist religion. “Crass idolatry” is frowned upon since it removes Yahweh’s blessings from the community. This is often offered as an explanation as to why Israel floundered. The Israelites were following false Gods such as Asherah, and therefore experienced the wrath of the One True God.

However, in the ancient world, Polytheists viewed religion differently. Polytheism, by its nature, is dedicated to the infinity of Gods. Because of this, religious pluralism abounds. Ancient cultures borrowed Gods from each other, adapted Them, created new Gods, or gave the foreign Gods more attributes. Meanwhile, the Gods themselves are not stagnant. For example, Anubis of the First Dynasty Egypt is different from Anubis of Roman times. (He is the same God with different cultural attributes.)

The Romans were noted for borrowing Gods from everyone. They had rituals to decide which Gods to borrow, and rituals to borrow the Gods. Furthermore, the Romans had protocols for establishing foreign cults. Meanwhile, many of the borrowed Gods obtained Roman characteristics. The borrowing of Gods from the Levant and Mesopotamia allowed their veneration to continue. Although They are not traditional Roman Gods, An, Marduk, and Nergal had Roman cults. So my following the Gods of Mesopotamia is not that odd.

Therefore what seems to be a “double hearth” is a continuation of ancient Polytheistic practices. Each God has their own cultus and devotions. It is in the divine infinity of the Cosmos. What is needed in following multiple Gods is an appreciation of their differences in their desires.