I feel like I’m stating the obvious with this, I really do. But I want to say it all the same because I think its important: being a polytheist doesn’t necessarily have any values tied to it (and I’m not the only one who seems to think so).
Being a polytheist basically means that you believe in multiple gods (for a more complete explanation, see here). That’s the textbook definition, more or less. So why certain writers feel the need to complicate the matter by shaming people into “doing more” and “fitting in with the crowd” with their faith is beyond me.
Oh wait, I know- its because if you don’t make others feel lesser in their practices, you won’t feel as good about yourself and your practice. You can’t have a pedestal without a pile of beaten down enemies beneath it, can you?
For those of you who haven’t read it, I recommend reading Krasskova’s post on polytheists and values- because that’s what sparked this post that you’re about to read. I think the first thing that struck me in regards to her post is the notion that only polytheists- True and Real polytheists, I mean, have morals and values. Value systems are complex to say the least, and I think it would be completely illogical to think that anyone doesn’t have some sense of an ethical system running through their noggin. Their ethical system may not line up with yours, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In addition to this, value systems aren’t necessarily polytheistic in nature- they are often cultural or circumstantial, rather than ‘you’re not a good person if you don’t accept that the existence of God(s) are like so.’ Accepting that there are multiple individual co-eternal Supreme Beings doesn’t have anything to do with what you do with your human dead or how you treat women. A perfect example of this would be ancient Egypt. Most would consider us Kemetics to be polytheistic in nature- but even Egyptian views on deities shifted as the years progressed. While Egypt started off being heavily polytheistic, the views on NTRW (gods) changed to a more henotheistic view by the New Kingdom. Despite these changes in religious views, the core values and ethics of the society remained relatively unchanged (Wim van den Dungen). Many ancient cultures had polytheistic religions within them, but polytheistic interpretations weren’t the only theological stances and interpretations in existence. Furthermore, the moral codes and values were the result of a functioning culture that needed to maintain some semblance of order.
Some of the “values” set up in antiquity should not even be brought forth into the modern era. I know that many polytheists like to look at the past with rose colored and romantic tinged glasses, but really, there are aspects of the cultures from antiquity that should probably remain buried. Many cultures were sexist and ethnocentric and many facets of any given religious culture often catered to both. Many cultures also featured institutionalized slavery, and some practices with a religious veneer arose from that institutionalized slavery, particularly within Mesopotamian cultures, as Sard discusses in her article on tattooing in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. First and foremost, we should be examining what it is we are praising before trying to rub it into other people’s faces. We shouldn’t just emulate ancient practices simply because “that’s how they did it back then.” Just because it is an established convention, does not mean it was also an inherently moral convention.
Regardless of whether you’re a polytheist or henotheist or monotheist (or something else entirely), the fact of the matter is we were all raised in a culture with its own set of values and morals that we have been inculcated with. Krasskova’s post, in my opinion, is rendered null and void at the notion that somehow “polytheist” values trump someone else’s.
Where did the notion even come from? You know, the one that states that you’re somehow less of a polytheist if you’re not following the prescribed polytheism that is set forth by Krasskova. I personally find it disrespectful and horribly asinine to lump all of us polytheists together as though we are one big happy family that believes all of the same stuff, but as I said, you can’t have a pedestal without people beneath you, it’s really that simple.
In her post, Krasskova lists the following values as being important to any polytheist:
- ancestor veneration
- respecting the diversity of the divine
Out of all of these values set forth by Krasskova, the only one that I see being relevant to a polytheist- you know, someone who believes in multiple gods, or practices a religion that has multiple gods in it- is “respecting the diversity of the divine”. And when it comes to that particular “value,” I don’t see it the way that she does. Generally speaking, how we view the precise nature of the Divine isn’t a moral value or some “VIP pass to Heaven” in religions other than Monotheistic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The “Big Three” have a particular fondness for saying “you have to believe in God this exact way, or else!” It is quite odd in a number of ways to see Krasskova to speak against such dogmatic control out of one side of her mouth, and then say the exact same thing the “Big Three” do in the name of “true and healthy polytheism” out of the other side of her mouth.
Respecting the diversity of the divine is respecting that there is diversity. When you narrow down the diversity to a singular definition of “all gods are always separate all the time” you’re defeating the whole point of celebration of diversity; which is further reinforced by the anti-Christian sentiment that was thrown in there (“The search for ‘unity’ is a holdover from the infection of monotheism, and a comfortable way of concealing its poison under pleasantly new age language“).
I do agree, however, that it would do us well as a group to understand that the divine is diverse. The divine is as diverse as we are and our practices are- and that is why you can’t lump us all together as being one massive polytheistic tradition that does all of the same things. The divine can appear as one and as many. Gods can mesh together to play with your brain, or one deity might break apart into 9384 pieces just to get a point across.
Gods do what they want.
As far as I’m concerned, Krasskova’s other points have little to no place in a polytheistic value set (in the strictest sense). Nothing within my polytheistic religion states that you must worship your ancestors. Some ancestors aren’t worth venerating. Some of us don’t have ancestors to venerate. Some of us simply don’t have the ability to connect with the dead. And I personally find more benefit in veneration of land spirits and astral family over my physical family lineage. Nothing within the code of “ma’at” (you know, the core point of Kemeticism) tells me that I have to venerate my ancestors. Nor does it mention that I need to be pious (good luck defining piety. Even Krasskova has admitted that its not something she can really dictate, and yet she attempts to time and time again). Nor does my religion state what I should or shouldn’t wear and whether I should be allowed to “squander” my sexuality (and why aren’t men and non-binary folks mentioned in the squandering of sexuality?).
And don’t even get me started on courage- one of my main gods is known for being a passive deity who doesn’t even stand up for himself.
I suppose what I’m trying to get at is simply this: values and morals are a personal thing. You can’t dictate morals across such a wide spectrum, especially such a loose-knit spectrum as the “polytheist” community is. You can’t. You simply can’t (and you shouldn’t).
Even if there is some universal external moral/ethical standard, we simply cannot know it. We can only guess at it and hope we’re close to being correct. It’s not something you can force down other people’s throats.
One of the reasons that “ma’at” is such a hard term to define is because it’s different for each person. We can water it down into balance, justice and truth- but what each of those things entails will be different depending on the circumstances and the people/gods/entities involved in the situation. The same goes for values. As I once stated in my post about being Devout, there is no right or wrong way to do this and there is no good way to make rules that encompass everyone in every situation.
But since there is such a desire by Krasskova to put generalized statements over all polytheists at once, allow me to suggest one of the most important values that any boat paddling Kemetic can have for her to consider: Don’t be a dick.
I think that should probably be the number one value for anyone at this point.
Do not be haughty because of your knowledge,
But take counsel / with the unlearned man as well as with the learned,
For no one has ever attained perfection of competence,
And there is no craftsman who has acquired (full) mastery.
Good advice is rarer than emeralds,
But yet it may be found even among women at the grindstones
(Maxims of Ptahhotep, translation from Literature of AE by Simpson)