Thinking Theologically: Christian Particularism, Devotional Polytheist Particularism, and The Dynamics of Relationships

COMPARE by Leroy: Unsplash.com.

 

Y’all wanted more theology – this is as theological as I can get!

This is a paper that I wrote for my university course in Systematic Theology last semester. I was rereading it and thought it would be a useful contribution to the Thinking Theologically series, considering that this paper was a mix of systematic theology and comparative theology. In summary, I was comparing David Kelsey’s ideas on how humans and God interact with and understand each other (in what he calls a Christian particularism) with my own thoughts about how a devotional polytheist and the Power(s) understand and interact with each other.

This is a paper with footnotes and citations, to which I have attempted to make as easy as possible to read, and I certainly invite everyone to engage in this conversation, whether with me or with others! I have definitely noted that no two polytheists are the same; for the sake of the argument, the devotional polytheist perspective in this paper is primarily my own (although I have tried to bring in the many other influences and perspectives that the community holds). However, I have also noted that I have written this paper with the understanding that the person who was reading it had little to no information about devotional polytheism; yet, I did my best to engage as deeply as I could, with the information I had, without overwhelming the reader as if they knew as much about my faith as I did.

Enjoy!


At the very beginning of his Eccentric Existence, David H. Kelsey presents a vocabulary of “particularism” – of exploring important theological and religious questions through the lens of a particular religion. In his introduction to Volume 1, Kelsey categorizes these questions as the “what,” the “how,” and the “who” – what are we, how ought we be, and who are we – and frames them within a Christian tradition-particularism.1 He invites the reader to apply this language of religious particularisms – complete with understandings of “buoys” and “non-negotiables” – as a grammar for any religion and its theology. It is my intention, then, to take David Kelsey up on this invitation by comparing his thoughts of Christian particularism with my own thoughts on a devotional polytheist particularism. I aim to critically engage Kelsey’s ideas and understandings about the relationship between humankind and God specifically in a study and a contemplation of the bonds that creation shares with Creator(s).2 By this, I mean that I will compare and contrast Kelsey’s understanding of relationship-dynamics between God and human beings with my understanding of devotional polytheistic relationship-dynamics between Gods and human beings.

Paying tribute to David Kelsey’s formulas and methodological organization, I have arranged this paper to develop in a certain way. I will first define and develop concepts such as: what constitutes a human being, what constitutes a God (in both particularisms), how the bond between Human and God works (in both traditions) and what the answers from these two particularisms reveal their perspectives and theologies on the nature of the relationship between Deity and human being (as well as human community). These explanations will lead to conversations stemming from three main goals: the first, identifying the common ground between Christian particularism and devotional polytheist particularism; the second, identifying what makes these particularisms distinct from each other; and the third, how the aforementioned goals create a nexus for a conversation about the nature and the dynamic of the relationship between Deity and human being.

It is interesting to engage with Kelsey’s idea of “tradition-particularism” when it comes to the topic of devotional polytheism. Devotional polytheism is a contemporary religious expression of religions and faiths older than that of the Abrahamic faiths. Paganism/polytheism in general is considered to be a “contemporary” religion – that is, a collection of beliefs currently in the process of developing and understanding their own tradition(s) in comparison to religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (the traditions of which enjoyed over two thousand years of formation, often against paganism and polytheism). In this paper, devotional polytheism will be treated and understood as a system of belief with the same legitimacy as Christianity – as religions with traditions, theology, code, creed, ceremony, and community. The fundamental goal of devotional polytheism is embedded within the term itself: practicing and living a life of devotion to many Gods.3 Devotional polytheism is a religion of orthopraxy as much as it is a religion of orthodoxy, but it is certainly not understated that the lifeblood of devotional polytheism runs through the physical engagement with the Gods: through offerings, prayers, tending of shrines, and sacred work made on behalf of the Gods.4 It uses a language of cultus – a term for devotion, which Galina Krasskova defines as “the art and cultivated practice of loving the Gods… [Cultus] refers to acts of devotion, special rituals, and all other ways of paying veneration to a specific Deity.”5 It is exactly this art and cultivation of love that powers this religion; and although a world of many Gods is of stark contrast to a world with a One God, I argue that there is some common ground between Christian particularism and devotional polytheist particularism.

Definitions and Concepts, Explained

Throughout Eccentric Existence, Kelsey uses a formula of “proximate” and “ultimate” context as a way to frame religious particularisms and approach questions in a systematic manner (more or less). The proximate context is what he calls the “lived world[s]” – that is, our current and concrete position in space, time, history, and with our relationships with each other.6 The ultimate context is the dimension in which Deity relates to us and to creation; it is this context which is perhaps the most important to Kelsey, as it is the context that provides a fundamental identity to the human being – crucial to understanding who, what, and how it is to be human. He writes, “What we are as human creatures is determined by our ultimate context: God creatively relating to us in a delighted freedom from us and in freely delighted intimacy with us.”7 In engagement with this formula, Kelsey introduces another set of questions that provide another facet to this context-conversation: how do the contexts collapse into each other? What does this collapse say about our identities as human persons? What does the collapse of these contexts reveal about the connection between Deity and human, and how is it that we respond appropriately to, with, by, and for this connection? These are questions that are unpacked in his book – and that will be unpacked in this paper through the lens of devotional polytheism.

In David Kelsey’s Christian particularism, the proximate context of the human being is our response to the Triune God due to the Triune God’s actions: a life created, (by God), reconciled (by Jesus Christ), and on the way to consummation (Spirit). The ultimate context for Kelsey is also the Triune God: that the Triune God “takes initiative in creation, reconciliation, and consummation… [and] seeks response.”8 Through these contexts he sets a platform on which he develops the idea of what constitutes a human being in a Christian particularism; in a condensing several chapters’ worth of David Kelsey developing the idea of human being and of person, the human person is a living and personal body created and brought to consummation, by God, through the reconciliation in Jesus Christ. Although the human person, as a creature, has an inherent value and worth, Kelsey seems to make the argument that, ultimately, the true value and worth of the human person is found in the Creator – the Triune God.

As for Deity, Kelsey identifies God as the Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit – who freely engages with the world through creation, reconciliation, and consummation. The Triune God, having always been existing inside and outside of time and space, is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent; God is not bound to any greater cosmological law for, as Creator, God moves and acts freely and without restraint (in other words, there is nothing greater, stronger, or more powerful than God). Therein lies the relationship between the proximate and ultimate context.

Devotional polytheism does, in a way, grant Kelsey’s distinction of proximate and ultimate context (albeit, understandably, identifying those contexts in a different way). This particularism also has a definition of the human being, of a God, of identifying a relationship between proximate and ultimate contexts, and of mapping out what an appropriate response to this relationship is.9 The proximate context of devotional polytheism lies in the daily practice – establishing right, responsible, strong, and loving relationships with the Gods through offerings, prayers, tending of the shrines, and other sacred responsibilities that require setting aside time and attention to the Gods. (This is what is called a “working” relationship – relationship in action). It is a context of deep interiority, of becoming vulnerable before the Gods and placing Them before oneself. However, it is also a context that is clear in stating that devotion does not necessitate withdrawing from the world, suggesting instead that the proximate context is the interior brought into the exterior – the interior physicalized and proffered before the Gods with respect and direct engagement. The ultimate context of devotional polytheism is similar to Kelsey’s in that it lies directly in the Deity’s nature. The ultimate context is to love the Gods: this love comes from recognizing Them as Beings who both earn and deserve our love not only because of the existence of a strong bond (the proximate context fulfilled) but also because, as Galina Krasskova puts it, the Gods are “Presence[s] that by [their] very nature [are] other-than-human, bigger, older, and incredibly powerful.”10 Where the ultimate collapses into the proximate is when the establishment, developments, and practices of devotional relationships directly lead to the understanding that the Gods deserve our love and the actions that externalize that very love. As with Kelsey’s formula, the proximate and ultimate context provide a breeding ground for the definition of a human being. Mirroring Kelsey, a safe generalization that can be made about human beings from a devotional polytheist particularism is that the human being is a living and personal body. Now, the identity of, and implications of being, a human person depend on the devotee and the Gods that they worship; each God belongs to a particular pantheon, and each pantheon has a different understanding of the human being due to the difference of the sacred stories. The Norse Gods, the Egyptian Gods, and the Canaanite Gods have differing creation mythologies, different developmental contexts, and therefore different understandings of human identity. Nonetheless, I will make the attempt to define Gods and human beings from a broad generalization of the theological anthropologies of different polytheistic theologies.

Gods are forces that we are often inclined to acknowledge as being above human beings in ability, knowledge, inherent value and, most of all, power. They are considered superior to human beings, both more important than human beings and not more important than human beings; the Gods are crucial to the overarching movements and patterns of the universe, but Their superiority over human beings does not intrinsically mean that human beings are indebted to the Gods (as if they were slaves).11 They are powerful sacred entities that exist in the real world, each separate and distinct from each other (e.g. Isis is not Astarte is not Gaia – They are three separate Goddesses) and possessing a high degree of personal agency with which They fulfill Their responsibilities, make their choices, and carry out their decisions. They are also sacred Beings who possess, like human beings, the capacity to engage in physical, sensory, and emotional experiences such as joy, wrath, pleasure, pain, exaltation, and grief – Gods are Beings that, despite being Other, share and partake in experiences that would be generally considered to be “human.” At the same time, these shared experience make what we would call the “mundane” sacred, identifying a world where Gods and humans blend and walk in the same worlds.

In many traditions, while Gods are considered to be forces to be reckoned with (to say the least), Gods are also in a way bound to a responsibility to behave appropriately in the patterns and frameworks of the universe that They created. All Egyptian Deities, for example, must behave within the laws of ma’at – the concept of truth, order, harmony, peace, and right living that governs all things – and so must uphold the Law of the Creator. In Norse polytheism, wyrd – a concept relating to fate and personal destiny, some parts of which can be changed and some parts of which are completely fixed – applies to both Gods and human beings. In essence, as Gods have the responsibilities to engage and respond appropriately to greater cosmological laws of right-living and balance that They Themselves have put in place, so too can Gods be judged and can suffer the consequences of not respecting the rules of right living and being that have been set in place.12 Gods have the capacity to overstep and disregard boundaries and to experience the consequences of acting against the greater cosmological law.

Like the Gods, the human being is a separate and distinct being with high agency – that is, the capacity to reason, to make choices, and to take action in the world. The human being was not created to love and adore the Gods. Human beings are sacred to the Gods alongside and with the rest of creation, as they are not considered to be apart from it; yet it is generally agreed that the human carries the “divine spark,” which is the internal and fundamental (almost genetically binding) connection between the Gods and humankind. This is what I term the “static” relationship – the reality binding humans to Gods not necessitating the pursuit of a working relationship in order to “fulfill” it (for it is already fulfilled in its very existence). This divine spark is explained as the reason why human beings naturally gravitate towards loving the Gods (like flowers naturally search for sunlight). The divine spark is also what connects human beings to the experiences of the Gods – that human beings feel, experience, and understand what Gods do (albeit to a lesser extent). It was in creation – the intensity of the power and the unfathomable skill of the Gods – that the awesome nature of the Gods first became revealed, as did the initial “pull” to offer the Gods love, thanks, and adoration.13 Creation was where the first stirrings of the “terror of adoration” and the desire to love the Gods was born.

The Dynamics of Relationship between Deity and Human Being from Christian Particularism and Devotional Polytheist Particularism

This language of joyful love is a language shared between Christian particularism according to Kelsey and devotional polytheist particularism; now the definitions and identities of terms are laid out, the conversation between particularisms can begin. It is in this part of the paper that I will engage the particularisms (and Kelsey) in dialogue about the nature of the relationship that is shared between Deity and human being (and, more broadly speaking, humankind). It is my attempt in these of the paper to thread both particularisms together in conversation, in a way that clearly maps out where they run parallel to each other, where they are sharply distinct and different from each other, and where the lines separating both particularisms become blurry. This section will deal directly with understanding the nature of the relationship in both particularisms, leading to how Kelsey’s concepts of “creation,” “reconciliation,” and “consummation” are understood in a devotional polytheist particularism – and how both particularisms understand each other.

For Kelsey, the bond between God and human being is a bond that is characterized as the relationship between the “Creator” and the “creature” – the use of the vocabulary of “Creator” and “creature” is crucial to Christian particularism and its understanding of how human beings respond to God (in both appropriate and inappropriate ways). The way in which God relates to humankind is directly related to the concept of creation: it is a relationship characterized by God’s “delighted, attentive freedom vis-à-vis creation… a free delighting in creation… [a] hospitable generosity… and self-determining commitment.”14 In the Wisdom literature, God is a God who “is pictured as immediately and intimately attentive to the well-being of creation… repeatedly declar[ing] creation as ‘good’ … in the sense that [creation] is good for the purpose to which the Creator is self-committed in creation… [and] in the sense that it is beautiful… as reflecting the glory of the Creator when we engage in its sublime splendor.”15 In this way, Kelsey poses that the relationship between God and human being is a relationship that is constant and free. God’s love is given freely and as gratuitous gift; this relationship of love is a reality that is not affected by whether or not a human being acknowledges and/or accepts the relationship, since it is a fundamental premise that God is Creator and, therefore, our status as God’s creatures is unable to be threatened or changed. The human being can say “no” to God, but that response of “no” does not affect the existence of the relationship between Creator and creature; for Kelsey, God’s “yes” always takes precedence, and it is the unmovable “yes” of God that overpowers any response from the human being at any point in time.16 For Kelsey, this is a non-negotiable: that the Creator freely engages with the creature, and that this engagement is constantly open – constantly “yes,” unthreatened from God’s side of the relationship, and human beings do not cease having a relationship with God if they do not acknowledge the existence of that relationship.17

In a devotional polytheist particularism, it is an understatement to affirm that things are quite different.18 In this particularism the keyword of “reciprocity” is used when it comes to the “working relationship” – that is, that Gods and human beings engage mutually in relationships that can be started, developed, strengthened, weakened, and broken. The relationship between Gods and human beings is not found in Christian particularism, because Kelsey uses the buoy of “creation” to show how humankind and God are bound forever to each other. Rather, relationships between Gods and human beings are on a democratic, “case-by-case” basis, and no two relationships are the same.19 In a devotional relationship, both the Gods and the human being have a mutual responsibility to tend to their bond – to engage in mutual hospitality, mutual respect, mutual regard, and mutual action. Devotional polytheism is democratic in the sense that both human beings and Gods can say “yes” or “no” – both God and humans are defined as entities that are separate, distinct, and have agency (the capacity to reason, to make choices, and to take action). A God is not obligated, for example, to accept an offering from a human being. As YHWH does with Cain and Abel in Genesis, where YHWH accepted Abel’s offering but did not accept Cain’s, Gods are free to make the choice of accepting or denying offerings (and, in the greater scheme of things, to accept or deny a request for devotional relationship with a devotee). It is exactly the same from the human being’s view, where a human being can make the choice to accept or deny any request from any God who comes forward. In line with Kelsey, there may be times where a God will continue to say “yes,” but that in itself does not create a relationship; in devotional polytheism, relationships are created only upon mutual agreement for a relationship and mutual tending to the development of that relationship. Yet, similar to Kelsey’s argument that the relationship between God and human being is not threatened by non-acknowledgement, the aforementioned “divine spark” that is present in human beings is not affected nor threatened by non-acknowledgement. The status of the human creature as carrying the “divine spark” – the genetic connection, so to speak – with the Gods is as unmovable as the status of God’s “yes” to the human creature in Kelsey’s Christian particularism. In this way, a non-negotiable in devotional polytheist particularism can be affirmed in the two different ways that “relationship” is understood: the existence of the “divine spark” in human beings connects humankind and the Gods in a way that does not necessitate dynamic relationship yet affirms a static relationship – but the action of cultivating a working, dynamic bond between a God and a human being must be mutual in both agreement and tending.

One of the characteristics that Kelsey ascribes to God is that God gives freely and gratuitously – seeking response, as God does not gift with the primary (and strict) intention of reciprocity. At a first glance, devotional polytheism may look like a religious framework that is based completely on reciprocity; and, for the most part, that is correct precisely because the non-negotiable of the devotional-polytheist working relationship is that the relationship itself must be tended to in mutual reciprocation and partnership. However, that is not to say that, in devotional polytheist particularisms, Gods cannot act in “gratuitous gift.” Gods are powerful, Holy Beings that are capable of both creating choices and acting upon those choices – and not all Gods will demand a “payment” or a response of reciprocity for actions that are made. In fact, They have the choice to express to Their devotee that They desire nothing to balance out the scale, so to speak; likewise, a devotee can engage in sacred work freely (that is, purely out of love and out of desire of gratuitous giving without expectation of anything in return). A (very crude) analogy that illustrates this best is that of a “pay it forward” situation at a coffee shop. A person standing in line may make the decision to pay for the coffee for the person standing in line behind him; this is a decision that is made out of free giving, with no expectation of anything in return. It is, simply, a beautiful act of gift.20 However, it is not the “norm” of devotional polytheism as it is in Kelsey’s understanding of Christian particularisms. From here, a conversation about the limitations of each particularism can now begin to be established.

What are the limitations of these bonds in both particularisms? It’s an excellent question with starkly different (and, yet, surprisingly similar) answers between the particularisms in question. For Kelsey, there is an almost unfathomable strength of the bond between God and human being; it is a bond that exists whether or not the human creature acknowledges it, as Creator and creature are inextricably linked together. In this sense, there is no limitation that exists. However, when the concepts of sin, sins, and evil comes into play, things get a little trickier. In short, Kelsey wrestles with the idea of sin and sins affecting the bond between God and human being; even when God will always say “yes,” there is little statement on what is said when a human being says “no” to a dangerous extent. Can sin be powerful enough to truly threaten, or even break completely, the bond between God and human being? Kelsey does not completely answer this, but I would surmise the following: God will, always and forever, continue to say yes – the limitations come from the human being’s irresponsibility (that is, engaging in inappropriate response). The human person’s engagement in inappropriate responses damages not only the human person but also the community around that human person. The farther that the creature moves away from Creator (and engaging in a proximate context in an extremely negative way), the more that the creature engages in an act of “self-destruction” and “destruction of others” via the proximate context. The human person, then, would not be able to truly understand their identity or the source of their value, worth, and entire being. Yet I would also surmise that, despite the capacity of this happening, God will always continue to say yes – and God will always be willing to reconcile and consummate God’s creation under any and all circumstances. No matter how far God’s creatures may stray from the Creator, the Triune God will always and forever continue to take initiative in faithful, hopeful, and joyful love with creation and continue to be intimately concerned with creation’s well-being.

In devotional polytheist particularism, things take a different turn. There is no concept of devotional polytheism of “sin” as it is understood in Christianity – human beings are not “tainted” by sin, nor are human beings considered to be intrinsically led towards inappropriate responses to the Gods and to each other. However, there is a similar concept to “sin” that does not carry the trappings of the Christian use of the term. This concept has no term in devotional polytheism particularism, so I will go ahead and coin the terms “wrong action” and “wrong living” for the sake of this paper. The working bond between Gods and human beings is strengthened when both Gods and humans live rightly by themselves and each other. Right relationship steps from mutual reciprocity that is founded in love and devotion. It is, however, possible for bonds to be weakened, threatened, or destroyed (even irreparably) by Gods and human beings alike. Inappropriate responses may range from sacrilege, acts of hubris, and inappropriate offerings to the disregarding of boundaries that exist in the relationship and in failing to fulfill the agreed-upon responsibilities of tending to the relationship. A human being can engage in an act that can be considered unforgivable and unable to be atoned for, and so the God may leave the relationship; likewise, a God may respond to a human being in a way that is dangerous or inexcusable, and the human being can make the choice to completely cut off the relationship – a relationship that may never see amends.21 In this way, as “sin” and “sins” for Kelsey drive a creature away from understanding themselves in total fulfillment (even when the Triune God will always continue to initiate a loving response), “wrong action” and “wrong living” can completely sever the bond between a God and a human in a devotional polytheist particularism.

Conclusion

So how does a devotional polytheism particularism understand Kelsey’s ideas of creation, consummation, and reconciliation? Does this particularism accept them? I will argue that it does, but certainly not in the ways that David Kelsey unpacks and centralizes those ideas in a Christian particularism. In devotional polytheism, creation is a way of explaining how the world came to be, how the universe operates the way that it does, how the Gods came into power (and responsibility), and how we as creatures ought to behave. Human beings, carrying the “divine spark” within them, are naturally tied to the Gods – but their inherent worth is not directly tied into engagement with the sources of the divine spark.22 Reconciliation is a term that, in devotional polytheism, is used to describe how relationships, having overcome obstacles and issues, heal and strengthen – that is, that Gods and human beings who develop injuries in their devotional working relationships are able to reconcile with each other, and reconciliation deepens the mutual bond of love and devotion. Consummation, however, would not be a goal in a devotional polytheist particularism except for one single circumstance: if a God and a human being desire consummation (the definition of which is left to the language of that specific relationship only), it can and will be done.23 In short, consummation as Kelsey understands it would not be a part of the devotional polytheist conversation, as there is no separation between humankind and the Gods that necessitates a consummation as if in a language of salvation; human beings do not need to be “redeemed” or “saved in devotional polytheism, nor will human beings experience punishment if they elect not to recognize or worship the Gods.

For this conclusion, the majority of this paper has delineated the stark differences between Christian particularism and devotional polytheist particularism, I would like to briefly explore where these particularisms meet and run parallel to each other. I would summarize that they agree in that the relationship between Deity and human being is forwarded in eccentric faith, eccentric hope, and eccentric love (even when the ways in which these three are developed look very different). The goal of a unity in love and devotion is shared between both particularisms, with understanding love and recognition of Deity as the ultimate context (which collapses into proximate context). Both particularisms can understand each other through Kelsey’s vocabulary of proximate and ultimate contexts, and both particularisms deeply understand the meaning and implications of the ultimate context collapsing into the proximate. Despite how different these particularisms are, perhaps a deep dive into their cores reveal that they speak in the same language and they have the same goals: appropriate response to Deity, living rightly, and moving forward in faith, hope and love in a truly eccentric existence.


Footnotes

David H. Kelsey, Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology, Volume One. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 1-3.

2 Throughout this paper I will be using the plural term of ‘Gods’ as capitalized, both as a sign of respect to polytheistic belief in inter-faith theological conversation and as a useful way of making differentiations between Christian particularism and devotional polytheist particularism. ‘Gods’ will be used as a marker referring to male, female, and gender-fluid Deities alike.

Throughout this paper I will be using Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction (Sanngetall Press, 2014). This book is a central text to those practicing devotional polytheism, as it was the pioneering text that put both its theology and its practice into perspective. I pointedly note that this book is meant for personal religious purposes, written by a devotional polytheist for devotional polytheists, and so it is not a scholarly text. I have decided to use this text because it is the best example of a “devotional polytheist” particularism published to date, and the content of this book (which I personally agree with, for the most part) will help me develop, shape, pose, and answer questions in this conversation with Kelsey’s Christian particularism. In addition, as devotional polytheism encompasses worship to other entities (such as land spirits and ancestors), I would like to clarify that I will be engaging in a devotional polytheist particularism in a conversation strictly about Gods. In devotional polytheism, all Gods have the capacity to be worshipped because all Gods exist in a devotional polytheist worldview.

4 In devotional polytheism, generally, practice informs theology.

5 Krasskova, Devotional Polytheism, 1

6 Kelsey, Eccentric Existence, 11

Kelsey, Eccentric Existence, 242

8 This quote is taken directly from Dr. James Buckley’s comments on my second paper submission. I credit him fully for this quote that so succinctly and clearly laid out this concept.

9 I state, most emphatically, that although devotional polytheism has a practicing community, community members do not practice in the same way. Different individuals relate to different Gods in different ways, and so it is impossible to fairly represent the devotional polytheist community by generalizing “community” as it can be generally done with Christianity. However, for the sake of establishing a particularism that can engage in conversation with Christian particularism, I will “generalize” while doing my best to accent that devotional polytheist particularisms are as diverse as the Gods and Their devotees.

10 Krasskova, Devotional Polytheism, 3

11 There are, generally, two schools of thought in the devotional polytheist community. One school of thought believes that the Gods are more important than human beings and that, due to  this superiority, human beings have an unbreakable obligation to the Gods above all other things. The other school of thought does not challenge that the Gods are superior, but it does not believe that the Gods immediately take precedence over everything, nor does it hold that human beings are indebted to the Gods; the human being is the one who makes the choice to engage (or not) in such deep devotion. In this paper, I am engaging in the latter school of thought.

12 An example of this can be seen in the story of Frigg (Norse Goddess of the home and of Seering, who is Odin’s wife) who, when She foresaw the death of Her beloved son Baldr in Her visions as a definite occurrence set in His wyrd, attempted to bypass wyrd and prevent His death by making all living things promise that they would not harm Baldr. Her preventions, however, were exactly what led to the death of Baldr; the one living thing that Frigg did not ask an oath from (as She thought that it was so weak that it could not cause any harm at all) was the very tool used to kill Baldr.

13 As Gods also “specialize” in certain areas (geographical locations, skills, elements, etc), They are also adored because of their great power and skill in how They carry out Their responsibilities and engage in response.

14 Kelsey, Eccentric Existence, 165

15 Kelsey, Eccentric Existence, 165-166

16 Again, I credit Dr. James Buckley for the “yes” and “no” formula used here, used informally in class discussions.

17 A conversation about Kelsey’s thoughts on whether the status of a relationship between God and human being (in a Christian particularism) will be continued further on in this paper.

18 I restate that I have made two distinctions in the understanding of “relationship” in devotional polytheist particularism: the “static relationship” (the creational divine spark connecting Gods and humankind) and the “working relationship” (the pursuit of an active and dynamic one-on-one devotional relationship between a God and a human being).

19 There are two other aspects to devotional polytheist particularisms that make the situation more complex. One aspect is that there are Gods whom are connected directly to humanity and to human affairs (e.g. Deities of marriage and childbirth, traveling, love, tending-of-the-home) and there are Gods whom are completely separate from humans and human-affairs (Deities of the wilderness, the abyss, mountains). The other aspect is that relationships between Gods and devotees in this particularism truly vary; two devotees may worship the same Deity but have completely different relationships, dynamics, and connection (to the point where it may seem that both devotees are worshipping two distinctly different Gods). One may have a patron-client relationship that may only last a few months, while the other may have a parent-child or husband-wife relationship that may last for a significantly longer period of time.

20 Perhaps it is obvious, by now, how difficult it is to systematize the practices and theologies of a religion that is not as “organized” as Christianity – but, then again, Eccentric Existence is a perfect example of the challenges and surprises that come from attempting to systematize religion (or, in Kelsey’s terms, to unsystematically systematize – or systematically unsystematize?)

21 This is one of the examples where Gods and human beings are subject to the consequences of their actions; Gods and humans alike can experience punishment for “wrong living” and “wrong action” – of course, the extent of the punishment depends on the tradition (for example, an Egyptian God who commits a “wrong act” will be subject to consequences under ma’at and will be brought to judgement by both cosmic law and other Gods; a Norse God may have their wyrd twisted in a negative way and may be expected to suffer for Their crime at the hands of other Gods).

22 However, not recognizing that spark – or pursuing the source, that being the relationships with Gods – will keep the human being “in the dark” about their identity, their greater purpose, and their proximate and ultimate contexts.

23 In this sense, consummation can be defined as a feeling or movement of “pure unity” between Gods and human beings – similar to how ecstatic experiences and goals in mystic traditions are often spoken of.

 

2 Comments

  1. Wow, that’s really dense. Probably shouldn’t have tried to read that when my sugar was high, but still very interesting to read. Generally something I agree with too, most polytheists seem to generally approach the Gods that way, and there is a huge degree of… consent necessary, though there are some that take the “you can’t say no” stance too.

    As far as a term for the polytheistic equivalent of “sin”, the closest I can think of would be miasma, but that’s not quite right. Though equivalents seem to pop up in a lot of places.

  2. This is definitely a thought-provoking paper, and I’m glad you shared it. I do agree that devotional polytheism is based off mutual reciprocity…for the rest of the paper, I really need to print this out and go over it a few more times. It’s very dense, which I highly appreciate, and, for that reason, I want to give it the attention it deserves before I make any other comments. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

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