God is Dead, Long Live the Gods: A case for polytheism
- Why does polytheism make more sense than monotheism?
- Why do monotheistic religions always manifest as confused forms of polytheism?
- Why are successful scientific criticisms of monotheism irrelevant to a polytheistic perspective?
- Why is the meme the crucial link between secular thought and the occult world of spirits and magick?
- Why is the science that played such a powerful role in undermining the domination of monotheistic religions supportive of a polytheistic world?
For thousands of years, the world’s monotheistic religions have never agreed about the deity they worship. They are no closer today. Often punctuated by lethal violence, these disagreements were not just between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. They also occurred within these traditions, as different sorts of Christians, Jews, and Muslims accused others of worshipping the “wrong god.” They have never agreed and never will because the concept of monotheism is incoherent.
This incoherence, combined with science’s demolition of Biblical creation stories, led many to argue religion is a delusion. But even as traditional faith weakens, increasing numbers of people report their own powerful spiritual experiences. From a monotheistic or a secular scientific perspective, this is strange. It is not strange from a polytheistic perspective, nor is the variety of very different deities monotheists all claim are ultimately one.
My first experience with the Wiccan goddess came during a 1984 Midsummer Sabbat high above Berkeley, in a clearing surrounded by California’s gnarly oaks. I had just completed my PhD in Political Science, about as secular a field as any social science could be. Now I experienced a being more powerful and loving than anything I had ever imagined. On top of that, I experienced Her as more real than I was.
That afternoon in Tilden Park opened up decades of my living in the world of modern scholarship while practicing Wicca and other polytheistic traditions. I sought to be loyal to both, but had no idea how to translate concepts from one into those of the other.
My only rule was never to say or write something in one context I would disagree with from within the other. For decades I sought to understand how the worlds of the modern sciences and an inspirited reality, could both be true. I think I finally found a way.
To do so, I am starting from the bottom, not the top. Many physicists suggest some form of consciousness exists in even the simplest entities we would not describe as alive. At the most basic, a universal field of nonindividuated awareness exists. The world is more aware than we used to think, and science demonstrates singe celled organisms can solve problems and even remember (for a little while!) Trees can learn and remember longer. Neither have nerves or brains. And there is so much more! As entities evolve to be more complex, their individuated consciousness does as well, but it begins “all the way down.”
As consciousness becomes more complex, important dimensions of who an entity is increasingly rely on mental terms rather than material ones. For us, customs and language help shape who we are. We and some other beings live in two worlds, that of biology and an awareness of ourselves as self-aware in a world bigger than ourselves. It is a continuum of ever-increasing consciousness.
Once I grasped this, I had an insight I think connects the world as studied by scientists, and the esoteric world within which Wiccans and other Pagans often connect with deities and spirits: the meme.
Memes are more than the pictures and slogans we see on the web. A meme is any idea or custom in its social context, where its meaning is shared with others. Memes are words or behaviors connecting a common meaning between people. As such, memes are independent of particular individuals, even though they depend on people to spread them.
Intriguingly, scientists writing about memes find themselves describing them as if they were alive. Because, in a sense, they are.
The Western occult tradition has a similar concept: the “thought form.” Thought forms are psychic entities created by disciplined adepts. Memes are not deliberately created by adepts. They arise seemingly spontaneously, and their power comes from a many people using them, rather than the more focused awareness of a few adepts. But both exist because of mental energy being continually directed towards a meaning. In a sense, memes are wild thought forms.
We share a cultural ecosystem with memes, for they provide the basic tools we use in thinking and communicating, and as we do so we feed them mental energy perpetuating their existence.
The chief difference here is memes supposedly exist entirely within people’s minds, while thought forms exist somewhere outside our heads. To better understand the evidence for memes as thought forms, I explore other examples of consciousness shaped by human intent exists beyond our heads, and can be directed by those with the skill to do so. Any very experienced Wiccan, and many others, should know this from personal experience. I describe some of my own experiences.
As with physical beings, the world of psychic and subtle beings would appear to develop in individuality as do biological ones. And for the same reasons. This helps explain why there are a variety of psychic entities and, ultimately, deities. Thought forms are not deities, but as beings of mental and psychic energy, thought forms harmonious with dimensions of deities can be avenues through which they manifest to us. This also explains why particular deities manifest in different ways in different communities, and how some deities, like Aphrodite, Venus, and Oshun, share important qualities but differ in others.
They, we, and all things, exist within an all-embracing field of awareness. Deities are those entities that embrace such large dimensions of this field as to be independent of energy from below, though that energy, such as devotion, helps strengthen our own connection with them. The relationships between people and the Gods go in both directions. Compared to us, their greater connection with All That Is, is why we experience some deities as more real to us than we are.
“With its direct and fierce opening, this book develops beautifully, it is clear and challenging thinking essential in today’s world.”Emma Restall-Orr, author of The Wakeful World, Spirits of the Sacred Grove, and Kissing the Hag.
“diZerega is among the most progressive and thoughtful writers in his field. The main idea in this book, that polytheism is the normal human spiritual experience and that even monotheism is an aspect of the polytheist experience, is far more radical than it may appear at first glance. He has the remarkable ability to explain difficult concepts with clarity, and to apply his analytic skills in ways that show respect to the people whose feelings he examines. The way forward, for the pagan community, is with books like this one.”Brendan Myers, professor of philosophy, author of Reclaiming Civilization and Circles of Meaning, Labyrinths of Fear.
1,500 years of monotheist hegemony has obscured polytheism’s meaning and significance. As a result, contemporary polytheists still struggle with conceptualizing and articulating their experience and with recovering the legacy of polytheist civilizations from monotheist appropriation and distortion in order to answer the call, deep in our being, to engagement with the living immortals. DiZerega’s book offers insight into the historical conditions of the emergence and crisis of monotheist hegemony, a critique of its fundamental preconceptions, and a readiness to take up the burden of thinking new structures adequate to ancient and contemporary polytheisms in the context of today’s scientific-technological worldview. DiZerega’s compelling personal narrative, as well as his open and evolving theoretical perspective, testifies to the growing intellectual maturity of the polytheist movement.Edward Butler, Ph.D.
Dr. diZerega explores polytheism and monotheism from every conceivable perspective and discipline — from Nature and science, from theology, history, and personal experience — to show that gods, spirits, otherworldly entities are alive and well in today’s world, as they always have been. A true opus magnum.M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien)
Witch at Large, Author, Activist, Ritualist