“Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.” — Friedrich Schiller

Controversy has broken loose on the Pagan blogosphere again.  This time over the suggestion that pop culture icons, like comic book superheroes, are equivalent to polytheistic deities.  It began on May 13th with a post by Sunweaver at Patheos titled “Making Light: Hero Worship” in which she compares contemporary superheroes to ancient Hellenic heroes and then a response by Norse Heathen Galina Krasskova’s who argues that unlike superheroes, heroes were real people.


Subsequently, dozens of bloggers and hundreds of blog commenters have jumped into the fray.  Much of the debate appears to be taking place on Tumblr.  There have been too many responses to summarize here.

What this discussion has revealed to me is the diversity within the polytheistic community.  I have previously written about the Pagan community in term of three overlapping circumferences: deity-centered, Self-centered, and earth-centered.  This debate has made clear to me that there are significant differences within each of these three groupings.

I realized this upon reading Canaanite Reconstructionist Tess Dawson contribution to this debate, “We Are Not All One.  And It’s OK.”.  In her post, Dawson argues that there is a fundamental difference between (what she perceives as) “mainstream neo-romantic Paganism and historic-rooted polytheistic religions” and we should stop trying to treat these two groups like they belong under the same umbrella:

“Neo-romanticist Pagans who believe that the self is the core of spirituality and who rely on the ideas of Jung, Freud, Frazer, and Campbell are often going to feel picked on when they believe that someone has told them that they’re wrong—especially when they believe that an individual person cannot be ‘wrong’ about spirituality. And it’s likely that they’ll think that the other person is so clinched in dogma that he/she just doesn’t understand what real spirituality is. Likewise a person who adheres to a historic-rooted polytheistic religion (not a spirituality, but a religion) is generally going to believe that worshiping archetypes or comic book superheroes is blasphemous.”

The two groups, says Dawson, are as different as Christianity and Hinduism, and both sides need to stop trying to convince the other one they are right:

“The two core philosophies cannot be resolved and the less time we spend trying to convince each other that our side is right, the more time we can spend constructively and peacefully on interfaith efforts. I use that word ‘interfaith’ with great intention. We’re not the same religions. We’re not even in the same category of religions. And that’s ok. Respecting our differences is important because this respect does not come from trying to make the differences into similarities. Respecting differences doesn’t mean homogenizing diversity.”

I agree with Dawson about the differences between earth-/self-centered Paganism and deity-centered polytheism.  The problem with Dawson’s analysis, though, is that not everyone fits well into either one of these groups.  I’ve noticed that polytheistic reconstructionists like Krasskova and Dawson assume that everyone who does not agree with them must be a Jungian/Campbellian archetypal-type Pagan.  But that is not true of many or even most of the Pagans who have joined this discussion.  In fact, Sunweaver, whose post started this debate, does not fit neatly into the Jungian archetypal category.  She writes:

“They are my gods. I speak to them, I feel their presence, I know from experience that they are Real. They are not real to me like Samwise Gamgee is real. They are real to me like my cat is real, but they often speak to us in metaphor and story.”

This issue reveals much about the diversity within Paganism.  Those who have responded to this debate seem to fall within one of five broad categories:

1.  Deity-centered polytheistic reconstructionists

2.  Non-reconstructionist deity-centered polytheists

3.  Self-centric magickal Pagans

4.  Self-centric archetypal Pagans

5.  Non-theistic earth-centered Pagans

(In what follows, I place various responses in one of these categories.  If you feel that I have mischaracterized your, your beliefs, or your writing, I apologize.  Please feel free to comment and let me know.)

Deity-centered polytheistic reconstructionists

These individuals value personal interaction with gods.  (I am using “gods” here broadly to include heroes and ancestors although these are distinct categories to polytheists.)  They insist that their convictions are a matter of experience, not belief.  They emphatically maintain that the gods are “real”, but they usually do not explain what this means, other than to insist that the gods are not created by us and they exist independently of our minds.  I have noticed that this group often seems threatened by any question about the ontological nature of the gods.  They also are insulted by Jungian/archetypal explanations of deities, and they find the comparison of gods to characters from pop culture to be impious.  For this group, religion is not about self-improvement; it is about honoring, serving, and expressing devotion to the gods.  Reverence, piety, and devotion are defining values from reconstructionists.

A good representative example of this group is Norse Heathen Galina Krasskova, whose post “Heroes vs. Superheroes” helped set this controversy in motion.  Krasskova responds to Sunweaver, arguing that, unlike superheroes, heroes were real people.  But, as Christine Hoff Kraemer points out in her post, hinging the argument on the historicity of heroes is problematic “because as we know well, the relationship between the tales told of historical people and the historical reality often diverge wildly within even a few generations.”

Another good example of the poly-recon group is The Anomalous Thracian‘s post, “My Gods Are Not Characters”.  (Anomalous describes himself as more of a historically-informed polytheist than a strict reconstructionist.)  He (rightly I think) points out the similarities between reconstructing a religious practice and writing fan fiction:

“… we do not (as lay practitioners or professional clergical figures) have the benefit of unbroken living lineages or traditions to draw upon; these are either new religions based on old ones, or attempts to reconstruct ancient traditions or religious paradigms in the modern world from our reflective (and/or academic!) understanding of them. Many of us are effectively ‘authors’ of new (or newly returned!) religious patterns of behavior, thought, or engagement. Since we are generally generating these ‘authored ways’ in conjunction with other people, we are doing so in a ‘shared world’ environment not dissimilar from series television script writers, comic-book authors writing for ongoing monthly titles, and so forth. In other words we are not necessarily wrong in noting the (figurative!) similarities between building (or rebuilding) religions and either the professional writing of shared-world fiction settings, or the amateur reading of them.”

But, then Anomalous does a one-eighty and proceeds argue that there is a difference because the gods are real: “the gods and spirits I engage with are real, literal beings, not ideas or concepts or archetypes or thought-forms.”  But he fails to explain why his gods qualify for this status as “real, literal beings” and comic book characters do not.  I agree that religion matters in a way that fan fiction does not, but, as Anomalous acknowledges, the line between the two is pretty blurry.

Another good example of the poly-recon group is Dionysian Sannion, who argues in a post entitled, “Making Light of Superhero Worship”, that there is a difference between make-believe and reality and that the heroes and gods belong to the latter.  About the gods he says: “These beings have an existence independent of our own — unlike fictional characters they are not products of our minds.”

Sannion perpetuates Krasskova’s error about the historicity of heroes: “True hero worship involves honoring the person for who they were and what they did — not for the idealized version we wish they were.”  This argument ignores the gap between historical sources and historical reality.  And what about the gods?  While some of them may have been human at one time (according to the myths), most of them are cosmic or born from cosmic gods.  In other words, most of the gods were never historical; they were always mythical.  And if that is the case, then how do they differ from comic book heroes?

Another concern I have with reconstructionist argument is the apparent double standard.  I have heard many polytheistic reconstructionists express outrage at the suggestion that their gods are, in some sense, not “real”, and yet many of these same individuals are very ready to tell other polytheists that their gods are not “real” enough.  A good example of this is Sarenth argues that “Superheroes Are not Worthy of Worship” and then attempts to “Dialogue with Pop Culture Pagans”.

Setting aside the issue of the historicity of the heroes and gods, I think that Krasskova does make an important point in her post about the trivializing effect of divinizing superheroes:

“… religion is not entertainment. The point of veneration be it of the Gods, ancestors, or cultic heroes is not one’s personal entertainment. Conflating comic book heroes with ancestral heroes is not a question of orthodoxy vs. modern avante guard perspective, but of singular comprehension of  the role of cultus in one’s religion vs. spiritual puerility.”

Our culture has a tendency to take everything holy and transform it into vapid entertainment.  And I suspect that Krasskova is on to something when she identifies the conflation superheroes and heroes as another manifestation of the modern descralizing of our lives.  I think this concern may account for much of what is driving the reconstructionist angst over so-called pop culture Paganism.  The attitude of devotion which characterizes polytheistic religiosity seems to be missing from more Self-centric and earth-centric form of Paganism.  (I have written before about introducing devotional practice, true worship, to non-theistic Paganism here.)  But the problem is this: how do we distinguish “religion vs. spiritual puerility”?  One person’s worship of Superman might be true religion, while another person’s adoration of Odin might be an example of what Kasskova calls “puerility”.  And I don’t think this judgment based on the historicity of the object of the devotion.

Non-reconstructionist deity-centered polytheists

While resembling reconstructionists in terms of their understanding of the gods and their relationship to them, non-reconstructionist polytheists differ from the former in that their gods may not derive from historical sources.  Instead, they arise from other sources, like interaction with the natural environment, as in the case of worship of fairies or land spirits.  Or they may arise from interaction with myth, but transformed into new gods.  Like reconstructionists, these polytheists are also often reluctant to speculate about the ontological nature of the gods (or spirits etc.).  And like reconstructionists, what matters to them is their relationship with these beings, not their beliefs about them.  They speak in terms of faith and hubris, terms which until recently were absent from Pagan discussions.  Where non-recon polys differ is that they don’t have recourse to historical sources to legitimize their worship.  And if one is not bound to historical deities, then the question of what distinguishes the worship of one’s deities from the adoration of comic book characters becomes even more acute.

A good example of a non-reconstructionist polytheist is Aine who worships new gods, spirits, and fairies.  For Aine, the gods are not archetypes, as he explains in his self-described “rant”:

“These gods and spirits are real to me. In the religion, they are treated as real entities deserving of offerings and rituals, rituals that are more focused on the gods and spirits than on our internal mindscapes.”

Aine goes on to express his frustration with the “atheist-pagans” who either want to explain his belief in terms of archetypes or who want him to explain his belief to them in a way they can accept.  But, interestingly, Aine doesn’t deny the validity of those atheist-pagans’ practice:  “My having faith and fostering a path that has faith as a core component doesn’t mean people are suddenly unable to have archetypal spiritualities.”  On the other hand, while Aine believes his gods are “real” (i.e., more than psychological), he is not entirely sympathetic with the reconstructionist criticism of comic book character veneration, as he explains in another post, here, since it would seem to exclude new theophanies like his own.  

Aine also makes an important point that, even though one is worshiping new gods, discernment is still important:

“There’s also this silly idea that gets brought up that somehow if you believe in gods and spirits you must believe in them without any doubt or discernment. Again, no. Belief doesn’t cancel out thought, as much as some people might claim it does. I’m scared of where I would be if I didn’t take a moment to just think and consider and doubt. […]

The issue of discernment is also taken up in a characteristically nuanced fashion by the prolific P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, in “My Writings on the Tetrad Group Are no Fanfic”.  PSVL is one of the founding members of the Ekklesía Antínoou–a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.  The Tetrad, not incidentally, are “four transgender or gender-variant deities, who have come into being in our time as divine figures whose living myth reflects the realities of twenty-first century gender diversity.”  PSVL writes:

“There is a sense among many pagans of all stripes that every aspect of life can be sacred, can be service to the gods, can be filled with holiness, and therefore it should be. There is nothing wrong with that at all, and I agree fully with that aspiration; but, it is mostly an aspiration and not a reality for most of us. The mistake comes when it is automatically assumed that because any aspect of life can be sacred, that therefore it already is just by sort of saying so in a blanket fashion, and realizing it is such in one’s own mind. In my experience, that doesn’t work, and hasn’t always worked.

“… just because someone likes something, and can find a connection between it and spiritual practice or potential cultus, doesn’t mean there automatically is one.

“I do think there’s a horrible potential for error, though, when people begin to mistake these activities for spiritual practice, or to take the engagement of active and creative imagination in them for the same process which often goes into devotional or cultic activities. Both actively engage the imagination and creativity, as I’ve said repeatedly (and perhaps unhelpfully!) here; but, there is a difference, and it is the cultic factor mentioned above.”

(emphasis added).

I agree with PSVL 100% on the pansacramentalism issue: just because something may be sacred does not mean it necessarily is.  But then PSVL tries to draw the distinction based on whether there is “cultic activity”, and it is unclear what qualifies as “cultic activity”.  PSVL then attempts to draw a line between fiction and myth that I don’t think is as sharp a distinction as e hopes:

“I would make the following broad distinction between the two: ‘fiction’ is something that is neither factual nor True, whereas “myth” is never factual but always True. No matter how much someone likes the story, nor ‘believes’ in it, Don Quixote never tilted at windmills, Natty Bumppo never had adventures with the last members of the Mohican tribe, and Tony Stark never made forty-two Iron Man suits. Sure, we can take lessons from these stories, and they can even go on to inspire our lives or shape them in some fashion or other, but they’re not True in the way that all actual myths are True. Achilleus never helped to attack Troy; Jason never voyaged with the Argonauts, and Perseus never cut off Medusa’s head…at least factually speaking; but, all of these things are mythic, and as a result there is a Truth to them that transcends their time and place of writing and telling, and why they are still relevant to us today, and can touch our lives and change them profoundly under the right circumstances. It’s why cultus to some of these figures occurred in the past, and is occurring again today.”

The fact is that the line that PSVL draws between Achilles and Don Quixote is arbitrary.  The former is mythical to PSVL, while the latter is not to PSVL; but that’s just PSVL.  For another person, the reverse may be true.  There is no principled basis for drawing an absolute distinction between the two.  In the end, PSVL makes the same error as the recons, by privileging old sources over the new.

Self-Centric Magickal Pagans

These are Pagans whose beliefs are influenced by ceremonial magic or chaos magic.  The may be polytheistic in a “soft sense”, but are often more monistic.  This group also differs from the first two in that they are willing to theorize about the nature of the gods.  They see the gods as “thoughtforms” or egregores, by which they mean that they are creations of our mind, but they take on a life of their own and exist semi-independently.  This group is largely responsible for the idea that characters from pop culture can take on a life of their own and begin to act like gods.

Back in January, before the debate started, Gus diZerega wrote 3-part series on pop culture and the formation of independently acting thought forms in “Dark Vader, Luke Skywalker and Thought Forms”, “Thought Forms and the American Crisis: Esoteric Insights”, and “If Thought Forms Exist, What Can We Do About Them?”.  DiZerega writes:

“Making a thought form is an act of magick.  It is kept potent to the degree it is ‘fed’ with the energy of strong focused attention.  An unintended thought-form is in keeping with the same model of how the mental world works, but it is independent of any particular person’s will and attention. If such a collective creation is possible, human beings can unintentionally create formations of mental energy to some degree both independent of them and able reciprocally to influence others.”

DiZerega goes on to tell the story of “Lark” who could commune with Darth Vader!

In case you were wondering whether anybody really is worship superheroes or whether this is all academic, here’s a response from someone on “Why Pagans Can Be Worse than Fundamentalists” who explains that Batman is real, just like all the other gods.  This was posted on a site called “Sons of the Batman” which is described as “a magical order dedicated to the spiritual model provided by the world’s greatest urban shaman: The Batman.”

Another example of the Magickal Pagan is Taylor Ellwood, who wrote “In Defense of Pop Culture Magic” and actually has written a book on the topic.  He defends “working with” fictional characters and alludes to the results of her own “16 plus year relationship with Thiede, a ‘fictional’ character”.  Ellwood writes:

“I’ve had interactions with pop culture entities that are and have been meaningful and aren’t mere flights of fancy or fantasy. I consider the pop culture entities I work to be real entities by virtue of the relationships that I’ve developed with them.”

I think it is noteworthy that Ellwood writes in terms of “magic” and “working with” fictional beings, rather than religion and worshiping these beings, a distinction which Julian Betkowski highlights in his post, “The Need to Understand the Role of Religion”.  Betkowski writes that the the origin of pop culture Paganism to be Chaos Magic.  I agree that magic(k) is distinguishable from religion.  There is a difference between the using of the gods, like they were batteries, and the worship of the gods, like they were … well, gods.

Similarly, Sorcerer, Jason Miller, writes in his post, “Fictional Characters, Gods, and Spirits”, that the concerns of Pagans are different from the concerns of magicians.  “Magicians,” he says, “are largely just concerned with results,” while Pagans are “concerned with defining their religious movement and having that movement taken seriously on the world stage.”  While I agree that the potential for embarrassment is a factor in this debate, what I think Miller doesn’t really get is that the concern of many polytheists is the lack of piety or reverence, which seems absent from the utilitarian discussions of magickal “use” of gods or “god-forms”.

I think Magickal Pagans are to be credited for at least attempting to offer a theory about the ontological nature of the gods, one that is not reductive and does not psychologize the gods, thus preserving to some degree their “otherness”.  On the other hand, there is a danger when the gods are invoked in practical magic that they will become mere tools, playthings of magicians.   And I think something very important is lost when this happens.  (This has been a concern of theurgists since the time of Imablichus at the turn of the 4th century CE.  An interesting debate occurred between Neoplatonists Porphyry and Iamblichus regarding whether magic was intended to draw the gods into men or to elevate men to the gods.)

As the Chaos Witch, Lee, explains, it is easy to “see why people might find it offensive that their faith will get diluted into a series of interchangeable symbols in soft eclectic blasphemy.”  On the other hand, the line between fandom adoration and religious worship can be pretty thin:

“What is the difference between a legitimate adoption of a paradigm for serious worship and totally denigrating the paradigm in which you choose to dip your toes in simply because you are only approaching it by the means of ‘paradigm adoption’ on the first place?”

Self-Centric Archetypal Pagans

These are the more Self-centric Pagans (note capital “S” used to distinguish the Self from the ego) who see the gods  as “archetypes”, products of our minds, powerful in their influence over us, but not existing independently of us.  This group interprets the experiences of the other groups above in psychological terms.  In doing so, they may insult those who find such explanations to be reductive.

An example may be Sunweaver post, “Making Light: Hero Worship”, which set off this controversy.  (As noted above, although she approaches heroes as archetypes in her post, Sunweaver herself experiences the gods as objectively existing entities with distinctive personalities.)  In her post, she compares contemporary superheroes to ancient Hellenic heroes:

“Our Homer is not any of the prose authors raised upon pedestals by many an English teacher, but the quirky white-haired Stan Lee. Our clever Odysseus, once clad in bronze armor, now bears the name Tony Stark and if he has a house in Ithaca, it’s in New York. The Hulk is our Ajax. Achilles is now… Cyclops? And then there is James Tiberius Kirk, another Odysseus, perhaps, a hero with his wayward crew on a journey to seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before!

“… giving your spiritual props to a historical person doesn’t mean you can’t also worship the ideals of patriotism, integrity, justice, and bravery that we embody in our superheroes. And they are no more or less real than the figures from Homer and Hesiod.

(emphasis added).

This is not a new idea.  It can be traced back to Joseph Campbell, who Sunweaver invokes in her follow-up post, “Making Light: Help me, Joe Campbell, you’re my only hope”:

“So, where I see interesting embodiments of archetypes that often follow similar journeys as the old heroes and who bring ideas about both virtue and vice to a modern audience, others see ‘just’ stories. Where others see the old heroes as historical persons worthy of veneration, I’m simultaneously skeptical of their historicity while accepting their importance in a Hellenic context. I just take a more metaphorical approach.”

More recently, the idea that superheroes are modern gods been written about by Grant Morrison in Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human and Christopher Knowles in Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book HeroesAlso check out Ben Saunders’ Do The Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes and Don LoCicero’s Superheroes and Gods: A Comparative Study from Babylonia to Batman.

Another example of an Archetypal Pagan is an unidentified person whose exchange with The Anomalous Thracian was was reported in the latter’s “rant”, “My Gods are Not Archetypes”.   The unnamed person explains how they see the gods in typical archetypal fashion:

“I believe that the pantheons of Goddesses and Gods are, in fact, archetypes. Archetypes that represent different aspects of ‘The One’ are inherent in the human psyche and found in all cultures throughout history. I would argue that all religious literature, or ‘mythology’ is fictionalization utilized to demonstrate a human perspective/perception of the multi-faceted Divine. The archetype behind many ‘super heroes” is the same as that found in the depiction of many Gods or Goddesses.”

I appreciate the concern of polytheists that archetypal accounts of the gods are reductive.  Indeed, I agree that many such archetypal explanations are reductive, especially when they reduce the gods to mere metaphors.  Such descriptions fail to account for the experience of the “otherness” of the gods, which seems to be precisely the experience which compels polytheists to insist on the “real-ness” of their gods in contrast to “mere archetypes”.

However, Jung’s concept of the archetype was more nuanced than such accounts suggest.  This is a subject that I have written about numerous times.  Check out my post at Humanistic Paganism entitled “The archetypes are gods: Re-godding the archetypes” and my posts here, “Are the gods real?” and “What is it that rules outside man’s self?: the gods as ‘other'”.  Jung, for example, writes that the ruling powers of the psyche “function exactly like an Olympus full of deities who want to be propitiated, served, feared and worshipped” and compel “the same belief or fear, submission or devotion which a God would demand from [humankind].”  Seen in this way, the archetypes are so much more than “mere metaphors”.

Non-theistic Earth-centric Pagans

For this group, their Paganism has little to nothing to do with gods.  Very few people from this group seem to have weighed in on this debate.  This group sees all this god-talk as distracting from what really matters, interacting within the natural environment.  They see gods as anthropomorphisms which are unnecessary at best and destructive at worst.

Christine Hoff Kraemer‘s response, in “Notes Toward a Pagan Theology of Fiction”, might fall into this category (although she too describes herself as a variety of polytheist).  She writes that she wonders whether fiction (and hence, pop culture Paganism) can distract us from spiritual practice:

“As someone who makes her living largely at a computer screen, I know I already struggle to be present with my little square of earth and its particular flora and fauna (including the human fauna who are my neighbors). […]  I worry that fiction can have an escapist quality, and that engaging with it too directly in my spiritual life might distract me even further from the local.”


To sum up, I think the recons have a legitimate concern about so-called pop culture Paganism.  It has the potential to desacralize Pagan religiosity.  However, none of the attempts that I have seen by recons to distinguish true worship from profane fandom have been logically compelling.  Aine writes about exercising “discernment”, a term that I see used increasingly among polytheists.  The question is whether there are any guidelines that we can rely on when trying to discern true worship.  That will be the subject of my next post.

86 thoughts on ““Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.” — Friedrich Schiller

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  1. Great Post.

    I wanted to mention though that I do in fact get that reverence, piety, and sacredness is a major concern. I have been writing on this topic on and off for over 15 years, with my first article appearing in Behutet magazine called “Why to not invoke Superman”. Throughout the years I have argued strongly that sacredness and actual belief is different from the attention that fictional characters attract, even those characters which are based on sacred Archetypes or can be shown to descend directly from religious figures (ie: Bugs Bunny comes from Brer Rabbit who in turn came into African American Folklore from African Trickster Gods).

    The point of sacredness is actually one that I have driven into the ground so much that I did not want re-hash it again, since it was beinbg dealt with adequately elsewhere. I brought up the issue of not being taken seriously because it is something I have not written on much.

    Also, while I may not fit your definition of Pagan, I do fit others definitions, so if you don’t want to refer to me as a Pagan that’s fine, but terming me “non-Pagan” is a bit extreme. Its almost like you are trying to say that I don’t belong in the debate at all. I mean, you can decide I am not Pagan because I am a Gnostic Bishop, but so is J.M. Greer and a half dozen other pagan elders I know. You can say that because I am a Buddhist I am not Pagan, but I do practices that honor many many Gods and Spirits. At the moment I am writing a chapbook on Planetary Magic with 49 Hymns that focus on the Greek Gods associated with the planets. Aphrodite didn’t care whether I am also a Gnostic Bishop and Tantrika when I make offerings to her this morning.

    Indeed as my good friend Sam Webster often makes a point of saying, traditional Paganism was much less about what you believed and more about what you DID. The gods were less concerned about the details of your belief structure than about whether you honored them. The idea that the details of your belief are what is important in defining you is, well, a fairly Christian idea.

    Be Well

    1. Inominandum:

      First of all, let me apologize. I read too much into your statement “This is not a pagan blog”. I wrongly assumed that meant that you did not identify as Pagan. I will correct the mistake above.

      I would love to read your article “Why to not invoke Superman” or other writings of your on this topic. Are any available online? Can you direct me to them.



      1. Hi John,

        Apology completely accepted. Wasn’t necessarily looking for one, I just wanted to correct the record. Most of my writing on the subject has been in reaction to Chaos Magic and the assertion that Gods and Spirits are the same and function the same as Batman and Cinderella.

        The Superman article is at http://www.angelfire.com/space/inominandum/superman.html

        Keep in mind it was written a LONG time ago.

        More recently I dealt with the topic a bit in my series on Post Chaos Magic


        Indeed, even in the post that you linked to, I did mention:

        “That no-matter how much attention and even fervent fandom such a figure receives, it is not the same as actual belief and faith. That is not to say that there is no energy there. It is to day that it is different.”

        As for the identification, I did state that it was not a Pagan Blog, and indeed it is not. So I do understand the comment. But its not a Gnostic Blog or Buddhist Blog either. Its a magic blog which is something that Pagans, Buddhists, Esoteric Christians all have an interest in. I bristle at being pigeon-holed as one thing or another. The strange thing is that when I was coming up in the 80’s and early 90’s all the teachers I met were all cross-initiated into just about everything. There was a hunger to learn all you could. Now it seems that the new generation is focused very much on being “This and not That”, which saddens me a bit.

        Anyway, like I said, good stuff and excellent writing. I will be following your blog from now on.

        1. “The strange thing is that when I was coming up in the 80’s and early 90’s all the teachers I met were all cross-initiated into just about everything. There was a hunger to learn all you could. Now it seems that the new generation is focused very much on being “This and not That”, which saddens me a bit.”

          I’m much newer to Paganism but I’ve noticed this too when reading Pagan elders’ accounts of the early years. I wonder what has caused the change. I suspect it is a normal stage in the development of a religion. It seems we have moved beyond the early charismatic phase and into the sectarian phase.

    2. Is anyone talking about what the Gods Themselves might feel and express?

      Is it so inconceivable to think that perhaps Zeus, or Athena, or Isis, or Marduk, or Lugh or Freya perceives a superhero or fictional character resonating strongly in someone’s mind and *chooses* to interact with her/him via that character?

      Do They not have that ability?

      Might They not find that rewarding?

      So much of this debate is about what our opinions of the Gods are, and limit the Gods to their predefined boxes. I don’t know about the rest of ya’ll, but while I don’t view my Gods as omnipotent, I do view Them as vaster and mightier than any box I could conceive of for them.

      1. Indeed. And likewise it is conceivable that a god might have 2500 years ago perceived Zeus or Athena etc. resonating strongly in someone’s mind and chose to interact with him/her via that “character”.

  2. I am, as always, somewhere in between on your classifications. I don’t talk about faith–but about experience; but I do talk about hubris, since I admire many Hellenic deities and heroes. I am a tentative polytheist, but still entertain the idea that deities MIGHT be constructions of my mind or archetypes; I have trouble finding self-convincing evidence of their independent existence. This does not, however, free me to be a happy little atheist; I remain a skeptical pagan experimenting with my belief like a metaphysical mad scientist.

    From a magical construct point of view, I could imagine super-heroes as thought form constructions. From that same point of view, I often note that among monotheists that the “gawd” of the more vehement “screamers” reminds me of a rather malevolent thought-form creation maintained by the hate and fury of the believers. Since I firmly believe that individual praxis is a the key to a satisfying spirituality, I do have trouble with trying to rigidly pigeon-hole “proper” belief. I worry that becomes the first step to hierarchies that lead to the sort of power-mad behaviors long practiced by certain religious orthodoxies.

    I’m a ‘bad’ pagan, I guess….I think all religions are best practiced individually.

    1. This doesn’t make you a bad Pagan in any way.

      “[…] I have trouble finding self-convincing evidence of their independent existence. This does not, however, free me to be a happy little atheist; I remain a skeptical pagan experimenting with my beliefs […]”

      The above quote is quite possibly one of the most succinct passages that I’ve ever read that I feel describes my point of view up to and including the times that I’ve tried to explain it myself!

      1. LOL, oh, I don’t feel like a bad pagan. If anything, I make a really horrid atheist! But you know the amount of nonsense out there defining what a “good” pagan is or is not. I think spirituality is a cross between a soft science (like psychology) and a really hard-to-master art form!

        1. “I think spirituality is a cross between a soft science (like psychology) and a really hard-to-master art form!”

          Yes! It’s frustrating when people expect it to be like history and physics.

      1. I do, however, differentiate a bit. I believe these thought form deities are not simply in our own heads…as the theosophists and ceremonial mage sorts believe, with enough energy/belief feeding them, I do believe they take on some sort of life of their own.

        Dangerous buggers, too. And mean. One of the more singular experiences of my mystical life was meeting what I can only ascribe to a “truer” version of Jehovah….a distant, almost impersonal power, not a vengeful father but one that barely noticed out out-of-sync selves.

        1. It’s interesting how infrequently I hear hard polytheists describe their gods as dangerous or mean. It seems to me that, whatever their nature, there must plenty of maleficent gods.

          1. Oh, that is one of the things I like best about polytheism…. No need to ascribe all things to one deity! My personal opinion is that too many job/mood “eggs” in one basket, so to speak, could only create pathology because all that “omni” bit has to include negatives, too.

              1. It isn’t even that I mind, to be honest. It is the bizarre quality of praising one of the mono-a-mono (yes, very bad punnage!) sorts as a “loving father” or “all merciful” while at the same time pronouncing him responsible for all sorts of woe. It is a kind of crazy making thing, you know? Like having an abusive parent whom you must always speak well of, while your poor mind spins at the dichotomy.

                And myself? I resist a popular idea in literature (even that I greatly enjoy…like some Pratchett Diskworld novels) that gods NEED worship to continue being “real”. To me, something with that kind of need reeks of a created being….a thought form deity, for instance.
                “Natural” deities, assuming such exist, have no such need, in my opinion.

                Many of the ancient pantheons were, of course, both good and bad…and possibly one time human? The Nordic Aesir, for one set, definitely needed the feeding by the elder Vanir’s food —the apples of immortality to BE gods. So, a different level of evolution perhaps?
                And many of the Welsh “lords and ladies” once roamed the earth subject to fully human woes. It is not the humanity of the alleged gods that troubles me; it is the total INhumanity of those in popular use and praised most highly.

                Even the divinities should earn their epithets!

                1. yes, evolution. That’s part of what puts me in “Self”-centered, but also still polytheistic and animistic. It’s not just the “self” in me, but that similar “self” in all things which has the potential to evolve through endless turnings. “there are many ‘Indras’ among the ants”.

                2. “It’s not just the “self” in me, but that similar “self” in all things which has the potential to evolve through endless turnings.”

                  Yes, and I would add, the “Self” that *is* all things, and is evolving through us.

                3. that’s cool. you can add that. for myself though I’m a pluralist and a dualist.

                4. Oh, I like that…I’ve kept thinking, somewhat fruitlessly in my panentheistic rambles, “What is it that builds the ‘web’?” I think your “similar self in all things” might be the key…if I recall, Joseph Campbell had said something similar in one of his “Masks of God” books.

                5. “Like having an abusive parent whom you must always speak well of, while your poor mind spins at the dichotomy.”

                  Yeah, Western civilization is the child of an abusive father.

                  “I resist a popular idea in literature … that gods NEED worship to continue being “real”. To me …”

                  When taken literally, I agree the idea is not very compelling. But *functionally* the idea is interesting, as it says something about the interdependence of all things, even the gods — in contrast to the monotheistic God who is transcendent and does not need us. I like the idea of human-divine reciprocity as a principle.

                6. Yes, the interdependence is different; reciprocity IS a different thing and something I seem to encounter over and over. Which is why, when I posit some “other” than human, it is in the panentheistic sense of something that participates WITH us, but not necessarily THROUGH us.

  3. I’m new to the whole “blogoshere,” but I keep hearing about the controversy in the pagan community, and I’m not really sure what’s going on. And I’m not really sure where I fit when it comes to your different categories, so bare with me on this one.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I’m gathering is that there’s a debate going on between pagans about whether or not fictional-comic book characters and other superheros can be worshiped as gods? And we’re trying to distinguish between “true worship” and “profane fandom”?

    The argument when it comes to the Bible is that the book was written by man, but it was divinely sent. The God of Christianity spoke to/told the authors of the various books what to write and then they did it. It’s the inspired Word of God, right? Using that argument, it’s considered, by its followers, to be sacred and holy word.

    The Recons and other Deity-Centered polytheistics could argue that the difference between “true worship” and “profane fandom” is whether or not the “word” is divinely inspired, right? If the authors claim divine inspiration, saying that the stories were sent to them from a god/dess as holy, then wouldn’t that be the defining factor?

    Or does it need to go past that for explanation?

  4. So I’m a 0% – 5% – 25% -70%. Sort of. What bothered me in PSLV’s post in answer to Teo Bishop, and you tried to engage him on this point, is his insistence that his experience is different, not just his interpretation of that experience. I get that he feels his experience is somehow…..greater? and that our interpretation as naturalists denigrates it somehow. For my part I feel his interpretation denigrates my experience by insisting that it is lesser, because otherwise I could NEVER misinterpret it in such a way. Sigh.

    1. Yes, he does assume that if your experience is subject to interpretation that you must not have encountered the gods before. He implies that there can be an experience that is so powerful it does not need to be interpreted. I just can’t buy that. It’s a fundamental condition of human existence.

  5. THANK YOU for adding some subtlety to this debate and making an effort to understand the various positions on their own terms first. I love writers who listen carefully before they jump in!

    I think your characterization of my responses is fair, though ultimately I consider myself a polytheist — you’re right that my practice is not strictly deity-centered in the same way as most of those who identify as “hard polytheists.” The gods are a part of the totality of being that I’m called to be in relationship with and aren’t necessarily the sole focus of my spirituality — but, then, neither is the natural environment. 😉

    Most individuals’ theological views, if they’ve spent much time on their spirituality, are fairly complex and don’t fit neatly into established categories. I appreciate the way your post begins to draw those out.

      1. No, thanks for the article link. Leigh seems interested in a different set of questions than I am personally, I think because she’s using a primarily ecological frame to relate to the gods, whereas I tend to start with a frame of intimate person-to-person relationship (not just for the gods, but also for human beings, land spirits, ancestors, etc.) I don’t find her view incompatible, though.

  6. Oh, I never get tired of hearing about the latest *created Pagan hullabullo…

    Superheroes as deity is nothing new…I recently wrote up part 1 of my creation of a Star Wars tarot, which falls along these lines involves a similar discussion of modern myth versus ancient.

    I’m not sure where I sit on this argument. Both sides, if there must be sides, have valid points and concerns.
    What certainly is powerful about this discussion is that it is forcing religious communities to explore the idea of sacred outside of the limited bounds of culture and history.
    Right or wrong, or justified and ridiculous, should not be part of this blog induced argument…perhaps it is more apt to look at it in terms of beneficial or not beneficial.


  7. Hello, John. I am well aware that there are more than two separate groups and philosophies that don’t fit under these two different ones. In my article, I am comparing mainstream neo-romantic Paganism. If a person is Pagan but not a neo-romantic and not a historic-rooted polytheist, then my article’s premise isn’t meant to include that philosophy. I did not say that everyone who isn’t a historic-rooted polytheist must by definition be a neo-romantic Pagan. That would be foolish, and I think my premise is getting stretched to absurdity.

    A polytheist puts the deities first in all matters. As such, polytheists often are uncomfortable being lumped in with a self-centered magical or archetypal folks, or atheists. Many of us find self-centered religion beyond distasteful, because many of us believe that putting the self first is a priority conflict. Many of us find atheism equally distasteful, even as a Christian or a Muslim would find polytheism distasteful. When we put the deities first, self-centeredness and atheism conflict with our ethics.

    I do, however, appreciate your breakdown of other philosophies: it is refreshing and helpful.

    As to the reality of the deities, I would have to bring forth my own example. Nearly a decade and a half ago, I had an experience where I had prayed. As I prayed, I heard a female voice say a name in my mind. It was a name I had never heard of before. And I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a construct of my own mind—so I did some research. When I did some research, I found that she existed, and she was part of a culture I had never studied, and a pantheon I didn’t know existed. Her presence “coincidentally” also answered questions I had been asking about there perhaps being a polytheistic religion in the Holy Lands before the people of the Bible, but it was a question I had never examined beyond mere private thought. So, although I don’t have three forms of identification, a cast of a footprint, and some questionable grainy video footage, it did prove to me that the deities exist and are real. It’s my thought that ancient peoples had experiences similar to mine and this is how many, if not most, of the ancient tales came into being. It’s likely that ancient people asked for proof too from the deities. This is how I know, instead of “know”.

    1. Tess, thanks for the clarification. (By the way, I love your blog. You are erudite, calm, and fair — three characteristics rarely found in bloggers.) I did not mean to imply that you had said everyone who isn’t a historic-rooted polytheist must by definition be a neo-romantic Pagan, but I can definitely see how my post could be read that way. What I found interesting was that not even a majority of those responding in “opposition” to the poly-recons could be classified as neo-romantic Pagans as you define it. Even Sunweaver, whose post started all this, does not fall into that category (as Christine Hoff Kraemer pointed out to me above). Many of the responses were coming from other polytheists, which was a surprise for me, because I had been wrongly lumping all polys into one group.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I know that sharing something so personal is risky. You experience is very compelling, I think. I might interpret such an experience differently, but I admit that your interpretation of your experience as reasonable as my own. It reminded me as I read it about a story I read about an autistic savant who knew things that seemed impossible given that he had never been exposed to such knowledge. I don’t mean that he was good at math; I mean he knew facts (I can’t recall the details). These kinds of experiences certainly call into question what we think we know about how the world works.

      1. Hi John. I am troubled by your comparison of my experience to that of an individual who has a brain injury or malformation (an autistic savant). Now I realize you’re probably not trying to imply anything about the workings of my own grey matter, but I do find the parallel you draw disturbing. I realize that you’re probably just trying to wrap your thoughts around something very different and seemingly bizarre as best you can. But, I must politely bow out of the conversation.

        1. Hi Tess. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Obviously, mystical experiences and mental disabilities are two completely different things. I only meant that both phenomena can challenge a rationalist’s understanding of what is “real”. I value your insight and your comments here, and I hope you will continue to share your thoughts whenever you like.

    2. I read about a guy who jumped off the Golden Gate bridge. At some point on the way down, he has a change of heart. He wants to live. He is hurt badly upon hitting the water fighting for life, but he’s going down. Until a seal comes by and pushes him up onto the rocks and keeps him there until help arrives.
      That guy can believe whatever he wants about what happened. Fair enough, right? I am in no way going to argue about that, but I do have another interpretation in regards to the supernatural agency involved..
      Given that different interpretation do we hang out, discuss, try to find common ground, do rituals together? Or can we not? How does our theology, or intellectual constructs, reflect when we come together on the ground? The blogosphere is an odd duck, how much do these opinions matter. Would they matter less if we were all practicing together, or less?
      Don’t get me wrong, I love the intellectual exercise of all this, but I come to see it more and more as something to overcome rather than something helpful.

      1. He (the seal man) has been touched by the divine. You have been touched by the divine. Whatever your interpretations, you can both probably agree that it was a meaningful event. So hang out, yes. Talk about it, yes. And if you we’re touched by his seal rescue story, then yes, do a seal thanksgiving ritual together.

  8. here’s a new category for you-“Self-centered, non- reconstructional, polytheistical, animist”. I’m also not shy about discussing ontology or metaphysics. We discussed along similar lines before, I think, over at you niche in Patheos. From a magical viewpoint, I find it extremely interesting, exciting, and somewhat dangerous as folks play with thought and energy, knowingly, half knowingly, or even unknowingly,lol, although it would be prudent to put “to know” before “to dare”.
    From somewhat of an ontologicalish view, “archetype” is a collection or category of qualities and can’t really have an objective existence except, perhaps as an example of ‘type’. (not sure I’m expressing that how I want to) I’d like to invoke set theory here, but I am kind of rusty, or perhaps taxonomy. The gist is that a being is not an archetype but representative of that type. Also a story line or plot can be archetypal. “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again, they live happily ever after, the end.” or verse vica 🙂 Plot is archetypal, boy is archetypal, girl is archetypal.
    I’m not even gonna touch Objective/Subjective reality, heh, except to say they aren’t opposites, yet that seems to be the crux of the biscuit. it gets into metaphysical/epistemological idealism/realism and whether “thought” can take a form, and exist in a subtlest substance, and to what degree that form can become independently self existent.
    Can one mold a fictional character to fit an archetypal type? I would answer yes.
    Can one ‘fix’ or provide a from for it of the subtlest substance? I would say yes, it is possible.
    Can it then become independently self existent? Hmmm, perhaps over time.
    That last does hinge on an ontological and metaphysical viewpoint, and not one that is modern.

    1. Say, Che! LTNS! (Labrys6 of old days here, still keeping a labyrinth!) Magic and religion aside….can I thought form myself an ethereal Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing of my very own? ::::runs away before being pelted with beans::::

      1. ::waves:: yeah it has been ltns. since I dumped deadjournal.
        and yes you probably could if you try hard enough!lol

    2. P.s.” We discussed along similar lines before, I think, over at you niche in Patheos.” oh it wasn’t on patheos proper, It was here, back on your taxony entry. I posted there under my given name Henry.

    3. “Objective/Subjective reality, heh, except to say they aren’t opposites, yet that seems to be the crux of the biscuit.”

      Yes! Good point. We need a whole new language in order to talk ourselves out of that dichotomy.

  9. My “exchange” on Facebook was not with Taylor (I don’t think Taylor and I have ever had a direct exchange), but “with” another person. It was actually more “at” another person, as there was no reply; my second blog post was a self-described pre-caffeinated rant about a single comment left by somebody elsewhere. I purposefully did not name this person (I do not know them outside of that post and my brief Facebook-and-Google “creeping” of them) and so any attempts to “guess” are sort of inappropriate.

    Overall I very much enjoy this “summary of events”, although a few points of correction of my own:

    I do not actively identify as “a reconstructionist”; I utilize reconstructionism (by scholarly definitions) in my religion where appropriate, but this is not a title or label that I apply to myself or practices. I am far more of a mystic-oriented (experiential) polytheist; that my gods are historically corroborated is an aside, as I did not come by them through those channels or avenues. That much of my cultic practices and priestly functions also find corroboration in (ongoing, incomplete, fragmented) inter-disciplinary studies and correspondence, is also mostly an aside: it confirms what I do, but does not inform it. (PSVL defines me as a “Polytheist who utilizes “Primary”, “Active”, and “Confirmation-Based” Reconstruction as a tool for exploring and furthering theological exchange. By this he means that I am the primary reconstructor of my religious practice — e.g. I am not following recon work done by somebody else — and I am actively rather than passively engaging with the religion, deities, and theology in terms of mystic communion, exchange, and so forth, and lastly that — as explained above — I have confirmation rather than appeal based relations with that which is “being reconstructed”.) If there were no literary or historical sources to confirm my religion, I would still be doing it, almost exactly as I am; it is a lived (and living) tradition born of communion, devotion, transaction, and inspired/direct transmission, rather than one that is being built from a set of interpreted written instructions. I know that sounds like a mouthful, but it is (to me, and others who are assessing polytheistic and reconstruction oriented theologies) an important set of distinctions.

    Also, while nothing that you’ve written of me offends me in any way, I do think that you’ve mischaracterized a little bit of what I was trying to say, especially with the comparison between fanfiction and rebuilding older polytheistic religions. The supposed “180” that I pull is not nearly as dramatic as you make it out to be, as I go back and read my own piece. I acknowledge a similarity in mechanical process between what these two activities involve, but then I strongly differentiate them in what I hope is an obvious way. A person at a party might use a special narrow toothed blade to “saw” through a block of hard cheese, which is mechanically and conceptually similar to what a woodworker would do with a saw when slicing narrow pieces of lumber for outfitting the handles of knives or gunstocks. However, obviously the overall action of “serving and eating cheese” is not remotely related to the action of “manufacturing and crafting weapons grips from burl”. There is a shared mechanic relation but that is all. There is no radical “180” in this leap, although perhaps my reliance on common sense logic (e.g. cheese and guns share very little in common beyond that which I described…) is a failing.

    You also point out repeatedly that polytheists are uncomfortable discussing ontological matters, and I am not entirely sure where you are drawing this from. I tend not to discuss deities in any specific detail at all in my writing (my personal theistic approach is an intensely private one, and “we don’t do that” very often in my tradition). I have very clear ontological and cosmological structures in my theology, but we are not discussing my theology; we are defining what theology is, or at least attempting to, in contrast to fanfiction or Jungian archetypalism. At no time do I attempt to say that there is anything wrong with pop-culture or super-hero engagement of any sort, only that the terms used to describe such things should draw from non-theological lexicons when possible, in order to maintain cohesive and consistant meaning and allow everyone (regardless of where they are in the spectrum of practice and belief) to proceed with far less confusion. As I said on Wyrd Ways Radio Wednesday evening, you know a community is in bad shape when the word “semantics” is generally taken to mean, colloquially, “without meaning”, rather than the study or assessment of meaning. (e.g. to call something “an issue of semantics” is usually heard and responded to in arguments as akin to saying “this argument is pointless” or “the differences between our views are stupid”, when in fact it calls instead into question the choice of words and the defined use of them in debate.)

    And to clarify (again), I am not critiquing anyone’s practice which is informed by actual engagement with spirits, whether those spirits are Odin or something wearing the guise of Sandman of the Endless. I am critiquing the assertion that all gods are archetypes, and therefore superheroes are no more “fake” than deities. I don’t know how to make that more clear. (I am also not saying “go home, archetypalists”, I am saying, “stop trying to define religious engagement using a psychological framework; call it psychological instead of religious, and continue as you will. Religion as a practice is studied by theology, not psychology. Certainly you can study religious practice psychologically or sociologically, but those studies are called psychology and sociology, not religion. I say this as a sociologist…)

    1. It’s a misconception to define Jungian archetypalism as purely psychological. Jung was a theist and believed that archetypes are the mechanism by which human beings gain access to divinity, which for Jung was not the least bit metaphorical. Some subsequent Jungian psychologists may have treated archetypes as metaphors, but if you actually read Jung, that is not his construction.

      1. I have actually read Jung. Thankfully I am not debating what Jung believed or practiced, I am debating what the people involved in this debate are calling Jungian and Archetypal. To clarify — AGAIN — I am responding with *every single thing that I have written so far* on this topic to specific folks who are saying specifically incorrect things. This does not necessarily apply to Jung, or to a spirit-worker who was on the radio show the other night and has a UPG relationship with the Endless, etc etc etc. I am responding directly about the use of statements like “gods are just archetypes, and so are superheroes, so they’re the same”. Is that unclear?

        1. You say “I am critiquing the assertion that all gods are archetypes, and therefore superheroes are no more ‘fake’ than deities.” And I agree with you. As a Jungian Pagan, I agree. I’ve written about this before here: http://humanisticpaganism.com/2011/09/18/the-archetypes-are-gods-re-godding-the-archetypes-by-john-h-halstead/. Rather than saying “the gods are archetypes and therefore no more fake than gods”, I would like to see Archetypal Pagans say “the archetypes are gods and therefore no less real than gods”.

          Can superheroes be manifestations of archetypes. Yes. Just like the gods of ancient myth can be manifestations of archetypes. On the other hand, can superheroes just be profane pop culture. Yes. But so can the gods of ancient myth. I know this is not how you would describe the gods, but it is how I make sense of my own and others’ god experiences.

        2. I am responding less for your benefit than for all those others who are reading here. There is a widespread misunderstanding in Paganism about the concept of archetypes, and I think we would have a more nuanced theological discussion if there was a wider understanding that archetypalism can be (and originally was) a specifically theist system. The archetypalism I see being described in these discussions is somewhere between a bowdlerization (by those who support it without much background knowledge) and a straw man (by those who attack it as a purely psychological system).

          1. “[…] archetypalism can be (and originally was) a specifically theist system. The archetypalism I see being described in these discussions is somewhere between a bowdlerization (by those who support it without much background knowledge) and a straw man (by those who attack it as a purely psychological system).”

            Yes! If I could accomplish one thing it in the Pagan community would be to rehabilitate (the more nuanced understanding of) Jung’s archetypes.

    2. Anomalous:

      Thanks for clarifying about Taylor. He pointed it out too and I have corrected it. I don’t know where I got it in my head that you were responding to him. (I must have read your post right after his.) Anyway, I’ve also made some changes to how you are characterized in the post which I hope are more or less accurate given the limited space. I have my work cut out for me describing everyone properly — but that’s what I get for trying to pigeonhole people.

      As for the rest of your comment, I think there must be a nuance to the distinctions that your are drawing that are lost on many of those reading/listening. So much of your posts on this issue consists of you bemoaning the fact that you are misunderstood. I know it is certainly not for lack of effort on your part, but I hope you will continue to be patient as we all try to understand what you are saying.

      Where I am getting the idea that polytheists are uncomfortable discussing ontological matters is from many interactions online with polytheists. Admittedly, online polytheists may not be representative of polytheists generally. In my albeit limited experience, even asking questions about the nature of polytheistic gods is often met with defensiveness and even outrage.

      As for the religious/psychological distinction that you are drawing, I have to agree with Christine. As a Jungian Pagan myself, I don’t see such a clear distinction between the two. I could not disagree more with your statement that “Religion as a practice is studied by theology, not psychology.” But that is a whole other topic.

  10. Your attempt to systematize the distinctions between the various viewpoints here is a noble one, and largely an accurate one, I think. Thank you for your efforts in this regard!

    While you have understood the points I was making correctly, I don’t think you’ve characterized me correctly.

    First off, my pronoun is “e, em” (Old Spivak) not “he, him,” etc. (And since you’ve picked up on the importance of my Tetrad++ Group work and its connection to trans and gender variance realities, it’s important to realize that I’m from within that set of identities.)

    Second, I base much of my methodology in reconstructionism, which is why my viewpoint is ultimately more like reconstructionists than the category you placed me in; but, I also worship the Tetrad++ Group and other newer deities; and, I also acknowledge that egregores and other such spiritual beings can and do exist…and, I’ve also written on many occasions (and said on Wyrd Ways Radio the other night) that the archetypes are a variety of gods, and the gods are another variety.

    As a result, I don’t think it’s impossible that modern or more recent deities can also have things written about them which would qualify as “myth” rather than just “fiction,” which is what I think I’ve achieved with the Tetrad++ Group, and what has thus far been the experience of those who have interacted with them.

    The cultic distinction between myth and fiction is that myth occurs (perhaps it may seem in a fashion that is mechanically similar to any other sort of fiction, as my colleague Anomalous Thracian explained) in a context of cultus, where people are actively worshipping the divine beings concerned. While that may therefore look like fanfic, then, I don’t think most fanfic writers and participants in pop cultural fandom are actually making sacrifices to, praying to, and are otherwise cultically interacting with the characters they worship; some pagans, it seems, are, and so perhaps what they’re doing is different and has the potential to become mythos rather than just fiction.

    It’s not just that Jason and Perseus are older than Tony Stark, Don Quixote, and Natty Bumppo, and that therefore they’re more real; it’s that cultic activity has always gone on alongside the former, whereas it has not amongst the latter, either with their creators/writers/authors or with most of their hearing audience.

    More could be said, but I think that’s enough for the moment.

    1. Thanks. Good food for thought.

      That’s my third gender pronoun error this month. 😦 My apologies. Unless I am mistaken though, a lot of your fans/followers use the masculine pronoun when referring to you. Is there somewhere on your blog where you indicate your preference?

      1. (I made the same error in my reply above, in referencing the recon terms. This was a typo that slipped through in my glance-over edits; sorry for confusion to readers and to PSVL for the slip! I dislike that this comment system doesn’t seem to allow for editing, else I would have corrected it earlier when I noticed it in a re-read.)

      2. Yes, there is–in a lot of the Tetrad++ Group posts, I’ve indicated this. I’ve made sure that all of my public bios at Patheos and PaganSqaure conform to this as well. I try to gently remind those who forget to respect my preferences in this regard, but many do not–Anomalous Thracian has been very good about it in general, though, and far better than most people! But, mistakes do get made…

  11. While it was never my intention to cause a ruckus, I’m glad we’re having this conversation (when it’s an actual conversation and not just reactive hollering). The views here are nuanced, of course, and it’s really helpful to acknowledge that and to recognize the diversity of belief. I feel like you’ve represented my views fairly accurately and I do appreciate that.
    Great post! Thank you!

    1. I am glad to hear that. In fact, I initially made the mistake of assuming that you took an straight-forward archetypal approach to the gods (in spite of saying otherwise clearly in your follow-up post). (And I am grateful to Christine Hoff Kraemer for pointing that out to me.) I think many people responding to your post made the same mistake and missed the nuance — which was more clear in your follow-up post.

      1. Christine is fantastic. She’s really on top of things and I’m glad my second post was more clear.
        My original intention was to say “Hey, look, archetypal hero journeys here, archetypal hero journeys there! Everywhere an archetypal hero journey!” Much of my religious education focused on Jung and Campbell, in part because it’s helpful as a priestess in a diverse community to see patterns in belief systems so that you can effectively minister to those who worship outside your pantheon. If you go towards “thunder” and take a left instead of a right, you get to Thor instead of Zeus. A former student of mine follows a Norse Pantheon and having those metaphors available helped me be his priestess. But Zeus and Thor, in my reckoning, are quite different and distinct beings.
        I think others extrapolated my commentary about heroes to mean that I think the gods are “only” archetypes or that it’s all archetypes – which kind of sounds threatening if your idea of divinity is that they are distinct beings. Neither way is more right than the other and it really is okay if your idea of the divine is archetypal, non-archetypal, or something else. Really!
        One of the biggest mistakes that was made from where I’m standing is that while I’m a Hellenic Polytheist, I’m not of the Reconstructionist sort. You address that beautifully here and I’ve not seen that talked about too much. Fact is, there’s so much more diversity of belief and practice than just Wiccans and Recons.

  12. Let’s stop worrying so much about what others believe, and let’s worry instead about supporting each others’ right to find truth as we see it. I’m one of those people who believes that Zeus is as real as Superman. I’m also Pagan, an initiate in a BTW coven (where we are taught that what you believe isn’t nearly as important as what you do), and a high priestess of my own coven. I don’t tell my initiates what to believe; to me, it’d be anathema. Pagan means a lot of things, but I think most importantly, being under this big, strange umbrella means having the right to seek truth on one’s own terms. You may disagree with my sentiment that Zeus is as real as Superman – which is NOT to say that neither one is “real” – they just exist on the same plane of reality, and that’s not the physical plane. Zeus is not “real” in the same way my cat is real. Being on another plane of reality does not diminish one’s importance, nor does it make one less “sacred.”

    However, all of that aside, what makes me more troubled is this attitude that if a Pagan falls too far from “acceptable” beliefs, they get ostracized because they somehow embarrass or diminish the practice of others. Your literal belief in the gods does not alter my practice in any way. Why should mine affect yours? And how about we worry about supporting each other in our quest for truth rather than tailoring our unique and beautiful religious practices, ideas, and insights to fit what others deem acceptable? Changing what you are and what you believe to make your religion seem more legit does the exact opposite.

  13. I am a Son of the Batman, and I can absolutely see why someone would be worried about the seemingly profane joke of worshiping a ‘fictional’ character, however I believe lumping all of us hero worshipers together is a little unfair.

    I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I come to this practice with an incredible amount of seriousness. For me, worshiping and dedicating my life to the Batman is the highest calling I’ve ever answered to. It is with me every minute of the day. I have daily devotional time dedicated to the appropriate ‘saint’, and I invoke and evoke often. The Batman is a very serious entity to have riding around on my shoulder all the time, judging my actions and making me do the right thing. Even when it’s the hardest thing.

    I have been a practicing magician for over 10 years, and was initiated into a hermetic order. I’ve had experience with Vodoun and Santeria. My experiences with the Batman have felt just as real as anything else. I think the argument could be put to rest if everyone would close the laptop and just try to evoke a fictional character that you know well, using the same protocols you find elsewhere.

    If it doesn’t work, THEN you can judge whether or not it’s valid. But if it does, then you just have to have the courage to change your model of the universe.

    1. Interestingly it is exactly the invocations of fictional characters compared to traditional spirits and divinities that has moved so many people away from that approach.

      Jack Faust, Patrick Dunn, Frater RO, many others who are perhaps not well known have done both and can honestly say that while there is a result from fictional characters, it is not the same or comparable to a traditional entity. The very act you suggest is exactly what has drawn so many from it.

      It is a shame that Chaos Magic as a whole gets judged by this technique, because there are many other aspects of it that hold up exceedingly well.

      Anyway, each to their own. If Batman turns your crank, have at it.

  14. I’ll try and explain, philosophically, theologically, and historically the divisions in Pagan faith. I am a worshiper of some of the old golds, so people understand where I am coming from. I accept that all gods exist, but I do not serve all gods. I serve the gods that feel right to my soul. I may use slightly different terminology than the author of the article, that is because I am trained under a different path, I apologize for any confusion.

    Basic Pagan worship of nature is worship that has no theological or philosophical problems in the divisions of pagan worship. Worship of nature is the worship of the expression of creation. It causes no problems in the minds of those who worship on a more defined term of existence. This means, to most of us, that worship a god or multiple gods, do so through nature. We are effectively worshiping the same thing. The only difference comes from a historical purpose, those following the old ways serve a divine being. Those who simply just worship nature are in awe of it and are properly reverent, They do not serve any particular purpose but they cause no harm to any who are trying to serve. I personally believe that they serve no defined deity, either because they are unaware of them, or because there is a stigma that comes from religious worship. Members of our society believe that worship is because of either a sign of ignorance or stupidity. It would be wrong to blame the worshipers of nature, simply because those who worship a divine being have been unable to silence a foolish and vocal minority of militant atheists, who spread the erroneous logic that absence of proof is the same as proof of absence.

    Pagan belief in individual spiritualism:

    This belief, in itself, is not harmful – but it is dangerous because it very easily becomes ego-centric. There is nothing wrong, philosophically, with worshiping one’s self (which is in effect what these beliefs become). They are developing their own soul for their own sake. So long as this is not harmful to other people, there is nothing wrong with this, Unfortunately, this in the best of cases, makes a person a recluse. In the worst cases, this makes the person believe they are superior to others. Simply put, no individual, even a leader of a nation, is really that important. Rome went on without Julius Caesar.

    Differences between pagans worshiping the old gods and comic book gods:

    I am grouping these two together because they have to be contrasted, these are two very different ideals. Following the moral code or philosophy of a comic book(spiderman, starwars, etc…) is not wrong. However, making a god out of a fictitious character, like Superman, is in no way similar to worshiping Odin, or even Hercules.

    The fan and followers of Superman or the ‘Force’ from Star Wars know that the object of their adoration was created by an author. This means, that they worship the creation of a man. There can be no question about this. Theologically, this is not blasphemy, this is arrogance. The root to make this faith work, is that gods are created by man, which makes man the preeminent being. This is backwards from every other theological code. The divine are above man. If man creates the gods, then the gods are servants of us, not the other way around. This is one of the fundamental differences between the two pagan faiths. It may be hard, for those who seek to invent their gods, to see the difference between those who serve and those who invent.

    As a worshiper of old gods, I do not believe I invented the gods that I serve. It is not my belief that makes them gods, they are gods because they are gods. No different in that a cat is a cat, because a cat is a cat. I cannot make my dog into a cat by believing it so. If worshiping the old gods turns out to be wrong, it will be because they aren’t gods, not because we didn’t believe hard enough. Humanity doesn’t factor into the equation.

    In following the old ways, we serve. The divine are above us. The more pious serve, simply because it is right, The less pious seem to serve as some sort of negotiation(I do this for you, you do this for me). Neither questions the order, the divine are above man.

    Religion has a bad name, because we have allowed arrogance to grow. Many people have been killed in the name of god, even in the name of the old gods. Unfortunately, we have forgotten all the good that religion has done for us. medicine comes from religion, roads come from religion, society as we know it comes from religion, law and order comes from religion. Those who resent religion claim that these things could have come without it, but the fact is that these things came from religion. All of them.

  15. Pingback: And I’m Back
  16. My blog is long-dead, but I feel like I need to step up here as a reconstructionist who hates throwing around the word “blasphemy.” Mind, this is in part because I have been dubbed a heretic within my own tradition (Celtic) because I don’t treat a Welsh monk’s propaganda about Brigid as equal to the myths, but that’s not the whole of it.

    I don’t judge other pagans as blasphemers or not unless they’re so devoted to slandering the gods I worship that I can’t think of a better word. So far, I haven’t seen cause to use it regardless of some serious motivation over the years. “Wrong and foolish and get out of my face” works better for me. I don’t see the worship of superheros as gods being blasphemous because those are not my gods. I don’t CARE how other people name their gods. Did the Celts give a fart in a windstorm about what the Yoruba did or vice versa? I think not. So Son of Batman doesn’t register on my radar as a blasphemer.

    I would only question the thoughts of someone pursuing a path like SoB’s *if* they were insisting that the comic book creators were tapping into a real entity and didn’t make it up akin to those who claim to be the reincarnation of anime characters. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Does that mean I think my ancestors drew from real beings and didn’t make it up whole-cloth? In truth, I shrug my shoulders. There’s such a thing as going too deep with unanswerable questions. I’m closer to “deities can tap into thoughtforms” than “thoughtforms create deities,” though.

    The blogger still known as Brenda Daverin, formerly of Red Raven’s Roost.

    PS – Taylor Ellwood’s preferred pronoun is “he.” Your post refers to him as “she.”

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