Henotheism + Polytheism: Anglican Paganism 101

This might have to be split up into a few posts, because to do the topic justice I think I’m going to have to write a lot.​

In fall of 2016 I started attending a local Anglican Church. My reasons for this were varied, and boiled down to:

  • I missed being part of a spiritual community as I was when I went to Unity church in high school, and for various reasons local pagandom does not fulfill that need for me. (That could probably be a post in itself.)
  • I had heard that Anglicanism could be fairly compatible with paganism, and that they were pretty liberal as Christianity went.
  • I had gone to a UU church off and on previously, but it wasn’t working because a) it was an insane drive away (over 20 minutes on a Sunday before noon through Surrey? No), and b) something just…wasn’t clicking. I was craving something different during services, but couldn’t put my finger on it, and I thought maybe the Anglican church would have the answer there.
  • I love me some Mary.
  • I am a slut for aesthetics, and the church is SUPER cute.*

So I decided to bite the bullet and started attending this church. I’m not great about going every weekend, because services are at 8:30 or 10:30 (summer has a combined service at 9:30) and my sleep schedule is usually all over the place, but mostly I’m set to “nights” because that’s Mr. Morag’s schedule. I like spending time with him; call me crazy.

The church was very welcoming and friendly, and super liberal. That first service, I found what I’d felt was missing. Anglican liturgy filled that need in a way the UU services didn’t. (Though honestly, if I could swing doing 2 church services on one day, I would go to my Anglican church at 8:30 and then make the 1pm UU service. It’s completely not feasible, though.)

The three priests (not actually sure on the proper terminology here, but the people who run the service and do the sermons and give eucharist) are all women, and my first day there I sat and chatted with one of them. I was completely open with her about being pagan and polytheist, and asked her if that was okay that I was coming to church while being part of a completely different faith group. She shrugged and said “Hey, you didn’t get struck by lightning in the pew, so if it’s fine with him….”

I’ve been attending for over a year now (not in actual weekends, because yeah, bad at making it every week), and I’ve come to consider myself an Anglican Pagan.

Being part of more than one faith is not impossible, but there are very few models for it in our society. People tend to believe religion is a zero sum game, but the truth is, many people carry different traditions with them, making their religious practices very individual. Religion and culture are heavily intertwined, too, so often you can’t actually pick apart what is religion for someone and what is culture.

My mom is Buddhist, but I grew up celebrating Hanukkah with her, as well as the Winter Solstice, Day of the Dead, and Christmas (as well as holidays we celebrated in a secular fashion, such as Easter or Halloween). Once we moved to Maui, we also attended New Year’s celebrations at the Buddhist Hongwangi missions with our friends. By then I’d become pagan (Neo-Wiccish to be specific), so I was also attempting to celebrate the Sabbats. (I was bad at it.) Every year, mom sang the Messiah with her choir.

My upbringing was a huge mishmash of religious and cultural traditions and celebrations — yet if you’d asked us our religion, we would have said we were Buddhist. (And later, pagan for me.)

Multiple Faiths & Changing Yarns

My upbringing meant that having several Pagan faiths was not an issue for me, mentally. I could wrap my head around the concept of it — I’d grown up celebrating many different holidays and ways, not fully being in some of the faiths, but being a part of it enough that it was a part of my life. As well, I’ve yet to run into a Pagan faith that states you must adhere to it and it alone. There is lots of wiggle room.

The main problem for me has been practicality. Multiple faith paths in concept? Great, fine, got it, no problem. Multiple faith paths in practice? Um, dear gods, please give me more hours in the day and also a better memory and hey can you take away my executive dysfunction? Please and thank you?

Right now I’m solving this by focusing mainly on the faith I’m building based on my three gods. Working out the practices of that faith — prayers, holiday celebrations, etc. I feel that once I feel firmer in that, I can add in other things. That’s the theory, anyway. However, I’ll still be celebrating the Otherfaith holiday of Reunion this year, even if only in small ways.**

So being a person of multiple polytheistic faiths has never been an issue for me on the brain side of things. But what happens when I try to add in a traditionally monotheistic faith?

There was some screeching in my head for a while. I wrestled with how to reconcile the two sides of my life for…oh, several months. I kept going to Anglican church & I really enjoyed my time at service. Also, so long as I’ve been living in a place that has actively tried to keep me from my gods, Anglican church was ironically the place where I could connect to them better. They never entered the building, but I could actually feel them outside the grounds from time to time.

As time went on, my attendance at church started to strengthen my polytheism. Sounds contradictory, so let me explain. A big part of my polytheistic beliefs is the idea of co-creation. I believe that not only do the gods shape us, but we shape them in return. I also think that we can call gods into being, through enough collective belief.

This doesn’t mean that I think all gods were originally created by us. I think a lot of the gods we work with and worship today started out as forces in the world that our ancestors interacted with. Through millennia of interaction, those forces took different shapes. (I’m also not saying that there’s ONE force for, say, fire, and that all fire-related gods come from that force. I think these forces are more localized than universal.)

So for example, in Ireland, there was a force who people interacted with, and they found it was connected to, say, fresh-water springs. Maybe other associations sprang up later — or maybe they were already there. But through millennia of worship and interaction and working with this force, that force became Brighid.

But Brighid hasn’t remained static since she gained a name and that shape; she has also been a Saint, and I believe the Brighid of Ireland is different from the Diaspora Brighid, based on my conversations with pagans across the pond who have felt something quite different from Brighid there than what has been described by N. American pagans. She is always changing and evolving.

Just like I am always changing and evolving, and how I change and evolve is very much influenced by the people — whether corporeal or non — that I spend time with. I would not be the person I am today if I had not met my best friend. She has shaped me into who I am now in ways I cannot begin to enumerate.

So because I believe that our belief shapes the gods in much the way they can shape us, Anglican church strengthened my polytheism — because I came to interact with the god they talk about there, and he was nothing like the Christian god I have encountered elsewhere.

My belief is that the Christian god is actually the Christian gods — that he’s split off into multiple iterations of himself based on how his followers believe. There are many different sects of Christianity today, and many different ways of interpreting their god. I believe that after a while, these interpretations resulted in whole new gods for that particular grouping of Christianity.

So the god of the Anglican church I attend is loving, generous, and pro-queer and pro-woman. It’s a very different being than I’d ever encountered before.

Henotheism + Polytheism

Polytheism is the belief in many different gods. Sometimes people put modifiers on the term, as it can be a spectrum. Hard polytheism refers to the belief that each god is a distinct, separate entity; soft polytheism would refer to the idea of “all gods are one god, all goddesses one goddess”. (I am simplifying horrendously here; there is a lot more variation in either of those terms. But that’s the basic gist of it here.)

I used to call myself a hard polytheist but really I’m more medium-scrambled now. I treat gods as individuals, not archetypes, but I’ve come to realize that deity individuation is not the same as human individuation. Non-corporeal beings get a lot more wiggle room when it comes to stating who they are and are not. Sometimes the answer to the question “Are you God Y or God X?” is “Yes.”

Henotheism is a cousin of monotheism and polytheism (and possible precursor to monotheism in some areas). It’s focusing on one god, while not denying the existence or possible existence of others.

I can’t go full monotheist, not even for a short period of time. It makes no sense to me, on a fundamental level. But I have been able to adopt temporary henotheism.

Every Sunday I go to church and I say the prayers and liturgy with everyone else, and I believe it completely. I never deny the existence of other gods, but for the time I am in church and participating in that religion, I am practicing henotheism: acknowledging one god.

This means that I can say the affirmation of faith without lying, because within that context of me being there in church, it’s not a lie.

This was not really an easy position to come to. I had to train my brain to make the transition between church and the rest of my life — sort of like when entering ritual space if I’m doing a ritual for a sabbat. When I enter church, I’m becoming henotheist for a few hours. When I leave, I go back to being my regular polytheist self.

I don’t think I ever would have been able to accomplish this when I was a teenager. Back then I was very caught up in my beliefs defining who I am as a person. Having to shift between modes of belief would have been anathema to existing. In fact, this idea that my beliefs made me who I am continued into my mid-to-late twenties — even when I was exploring the idea of paradox in Feri. It’s only really been in the past few years that I have been able to see myself as existing as me no matter what mode of belief I am in.

Morag the Anglican isn’t much different from Morag the witch. Switching modes of belief doesn’t change that I enjoy making things for other people, I like giving to charity, writing is my vocation/calling, my love for nature, and that the idea of stewardship is important to me. (Yes, that’s always been important to me, even when I was as far away from Christian as you can get.) Nor does it change my desire to help other people and see justice done. Whether I’m praying for that in a pew or doing a spell for it at home doesn’t much matter, nor change the fundamental nature of myself.

What does change the nature of myself is who I hang out with, and right now I’m finding the Anglican crowd is a positive influence in that regard.

*Apparently local film crews share this opinion of the church, as it’s been featured in shows that are filmed here. If you’re a fan of Supernatural, you’ve seen my church. You’ve also seen the hall where I got married.

**This was the plan when I wrote this post; posting it now, Reunion is almost over and I have done nothing. December’s been a hard month; I’ve been ill for most of it.

I think I will leave off on this topic here for this post. If you have any specific questions about my practice of Anglican Paganism, please ask them in the comments and I will try to tackle them in a future post.

3 Comments

  1. I spent a number of years heavily involved in my local Reform synagogue while still practicing my paganism, and had a somewhat similar experience to what you describe… it’s an interesting place to be, for sure. Glad it’s working for you!

    *Would this be the church where Dean and Crowley had the final confrontation with Abaddon, by chance? 🙂

    1. Thank you! 🙂

      I don’t think it’s where they have the confrontation against Abaddon. It’s the church where they encounter the Whore of Babylon and one of the Horsemen. Also possibly used other times as well, but that’s the episode that sticks in my mind the most.

  2. While I support the right of every individual to follow their own spiritual path, I cannot accept Christian-Pagan hybrid practices as anything that rings true in my own experience of either Pagan or Christian gods.

    Anglicanism, in common with all main branches of Christianity, has zero theological compatibility with any form of Paganism. A person can argue that perhaps they have a personal gnosis of the nature of god(s), but there is nothing within the literature or traditions of Anglicanism which even remotely support a fusion of Anglican and Pagan belief or practice. Your local Anglican church may well be a good aesthetic and logistical fit, but do some digging into what it is you’re actually participating in.

    The Anglican Church, or communion of churches, is for all intents and purposes, a reformed version of the Roman Catholic Church. They differ on matters of governance, how salvation is attained and other points, but the core beliefs, the doctrines, are the same. They are rooted in the Nicene, Apostles’s and Athanasian Creeds. They each profess faith in one god, the sacrifice of Jesus and the necessity of salvation, a non-henotheistic set of beliefs about the Holy Trinity, and by the way if you don’t follow the straight and narrow of this one true faith, you’re going to Hell. No provision in there anywhere for working in Brigid, Hekate, Athena, elementals, your ancestor, local land spirits or favorite super hero.

    Christianity makes core claims about the nature of deity and humanity and the order of things which is irreconcilable with the beliefs of ancient or modern Pagans. There is no way to even attempt an Anglican/Pagan fusion which does not involve full-on heresy. Not that I’m necessarily against that, but my point is that if someone is called to fuse those two religions, that call did not come from anything organic to Anglicanism.

    Why do so many Pagans make the attempt? I think we tend to misunderstand what it means to be a “liberal” church. We find in liberal churches people who hold similar views on social justice and political issues such as environmentalism. Over the last 30 years or so, Anglicans and other progressive churches, have tended to “move with the times” on issues of sexuality and LGBT acceptance. It must be noted that within Anglicanism, this is only the case in the West. In Africa and most of the Global South, Anglicans hold very conservative views on these matters, and in fact send “missionaries” north as well as separate leadership structure to serve dissenters.

    Liberal Christians tend to be open minded on doctrine, and usually these days outright heterodox. So they look like us in the sense that they “act Pagan” relative to right wing Evangelicals. But looking alike and being alike are not the same things. Alligators and crocodiles look like kissing cousins, but you can’t fuse the two to make a hybrid. In reality they are 80 million years distant in the tree of life, and so no more related than dogs and whales. Going to Anglican services no more makes one an Anglican than my appreciation of Rumi’s poetry and halal food makes me a Muslim.

    Another reason we so readily embrace the fusion of liberal Christianity and Paganism is, I’m sad to say, pure laziness. Every Pagan I’ve ever known to attend church claims as a top reason the fact that their local community doesn’t provide them what they’re looking for. They think “the community” aka someone else, should be responsible for building and maintaining a free, plug and play ritual experience. The reason that Anglican church has what we don’t is that dozens of generations of people poured their time and money into it.

    From what I’ve seen and heard, the vast majority of Christian-Pagans aren’t so much trying to reconcile deeply held spiritualities as much as they are looking for a free app for spiritual-but-not-religious self affirmation and the trappings of religion. It becomes very, very easy to to recreate the gods according to our specs and to shrink them down to little more than our on-call personal assistants.

    That’s where Christo-Paganism sticks in my craw. It demands that we expand definitions of spiritual beliefs not merely to inclusiveness, but to infinity. A definition which means anything at all in fact means nothing. Pagan religion for me is not an aesthetic or pop culture mode of expression. It’s not a hipper, earthier version of progressive Christianity. It’s about forging and maintaining a relationship with the Pagan gods and goddesses who call me. It’s about ordering my life (or attempting to), to a ideal informed by a distinctly Pagan and un-Christian world view. It can be bloody inconvenient. The nearest good regular open group ritual is an hour away. Three hours for the bigger Sabbats. More often than not the coven or ministry I want doesn’t exist until I get off my bum and create it.

    Paganism for me is wild, and unsafe, and sometimes isolating and discomforting. But it is beautiful, and definite.

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