My wife and I were having a discussion some time ago on the nature of the deities, and how the ways we view and interact with Them can shape how They present to humans. We’re both polytheists who believe that each deity is Their own, individual beings. We strongly believe that, while the gods do adapt and change over time, Their cultural and mythological contexts are integral to who They are. One can’t very well understand the gods or work with them respectfully without, at the very least, acknowledging their historical backgrounds. That said, neither of us feel that “soft” polytheists who view the gods as aspects of just one god, or of a god and a goddess, are without any merit. It is simply that they experience the gods differently than we do.
In our personal religious practices, we don’t believe in a generic god or goddess. There are many gods, each with Their own names and histories, including those whose names have been lost to time and forgotten. It was our speculation that, perhaps, some of these individual gods may even answer the calls to a generic god or goddess. After all, if a practitioner believes that all deities are the same, it shouldn’t matter to them who exactly actually answers, right? (I am certain it’s more nuanced than that, however this is a simplified take on the matter and not meant to be touted as truth.)
What defines an entity as a god or goddess can be debated many times over. There are many questions at play regarding the origins of the gods and whether they require worship in order to exist. These are all things that we can only speculate on while in this life. Even in the afterlife, we cannot say with certainty that we will know. While I can’t claim to have the answers, I find the topic a fascinating one to ponder on.
One thing that is worth noting, is that polytheism and animism has often gone hand in hand. So, too, have other spiritual concepts ranging from fairies, spirits of the dead, land spirits, so on and so forth. Among many different classifications of spiritual beings, there is typically some cross over somewhere. The different beings are distinct from each other, except for the times when they sometimes appear to be the same. So, what are the gods and what separates them from other beings? One could claim that the difference is in whether one is worshipped or not. Yet, that still leaves no solid answer because then one would have to clearly define what it means to worship. One may not worship the fae or their ancestors, yet they still pray to them, give offerings, and do other acts of veneration that is often associated with worship. Likewise, the idea that worship (if it can even be defined) is a requirement for what makes one a god is also complicated. Would that mean that gods who are no longer worshipped lose their status? What if they are forgotten, then rediscovered a millenia later and worship begins again?
This then leads me to the idea of time as a human construct, based on how we perceive it. There are those who believe that time works differently in the spiritual realms. What was once true for a god, always will be and yet no longer is as their mythologies develop. If time is viewed as a spectrum, rather than a straight line, then the matter of whether is god is currently worshipped or not would be irrelevant. The god was once worshipped, so always will be in that time and space. (And, of course, if those who worshipped them once still exist in an afterlife… Perhaps the matter of time also becomes irrelevant.)
If anyone who is reading this expected anything more than further questions, I must apologize. It is my belief that, despite my firm beliefs in the gods I hold close to my heart, fully knowing their true nature (whatever that means) is something that we humans don’t have the capacity for. The moment we think we’ve figured it out, whether it by through academic research or spiritual experience, there is always another question for those seeking more knowledge.