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Ælfhere
Sunday, May 28th, 2006, 06:47 AM
This is an article from the Asatru Folk Assembly website. I read this about a year ago when I was still a "seeker" and was impressed.


A World with Many Gods

One of the greatest stumbling blocks for those who would return to the way of our ancestors is the whole question of monotheism versus polytheism. Since we live in a larger society that believes overwhelmingly in only one God, it is a large step for most of us to even consider that there might in fact be many Gods - and Goddesses, too.

Much of the rest of the world, by the way, considers it perfectly natural that there should be many Gods and Goddeses. In the paragraphs that follow we will examine some arguments in favor of this idea.

Our own science has opened the door to the polytheist proposition, though we have hardly noticed. For decades, our physicists and philosophers have been tugging at the Establishment coat tails, trying to tell us that the world of predictability, linearity, and monolithic materialism has disappeared into a sea of uncertainty. The world is not the interplay of matter and energy described by Newtonian mechanics and Marxist dogma - it is, as one thinker has said, more like a vast thought than a vast machine. Einstein, too, failed to grasp the nature of things: God not only "plays dice with the universe" but he isn't the only player! Many dice, many Gods, a multiverse of profound and wondrous mystery...

It is this sense of mystery that pervades the new physics, and it amounts to nothing less than a reawakening of religious awe in a world which has become jaded, boring, and pointless. This time, we are all priests rather than peasants - not content to accept dogma mindlessly, but rather free and happy to pull and tug at the mysteries, to fathom the quantum enigmas and seek the truhts that underlie existence. The sense of the miraculous remains, even as we plumb the deepest secrets of the wonder around us.

The Improbability of Monotheism

Looking at history objectively, we have to wonder why monotheism captured men's minds in the first place. Does our observation of nature support it? Consider nature: storm and calm, ice and fire, plants and animals, life and death, sky and earth, all in endless combinations and complexities. The world around us is characterized by a multiplicity of forms and phenomena of very different kinds. It is perhaps more likely to ascribe this wide range of forces, things, and events not to one cause - one spirit or mover or God - but to many. The natural world does not encourage us to believe in a single deity, but in numerous ones.

Is the nature of human populations consistent with monotheism? Just as the world of natural phenomena is complex and varied, so is the array of nations and tribes that make up the human race. The way of Asia is not the way of Africa, which is not the way of Europe - is it logical that one supernatural Power can be the only true God for all of mankind? Is it not more reasonable to assume (as in fact each tribe and nation insisted until convinced otherwise by fire and sword) that each group has a set of Gods that expresses divinity in accordance with its own vision?

Does the direct spiritual experience of mankind, as witnessed by shamans, mystics, and holy men, support the contentions of monotheism? On the contrary, countless cultures assert that the multiverse is teeming with non-human entities, many of which can be categorized as Gods and Goddesses both major and minor. The claim that there is only one God is by no means the only view. Indeed, the existence of Thor, Odin, and the other Norse Gods was acknowledged by Christian missionaries and chroniclers, while the idea that they are fictional is a more recent development. Of course, the position of the Church was that the old Gods and Goddesses were demons - but the self-serving nature of this claim makes it transparent to all but terrorized peasants.

In summary, monotheism is contradicted by our observation of nature's manifold and differing phenomena, by the widely diverse peoples that make up humanity, by the direct experience of those in every culture who deal with the Otherworld, and even by the testimony of men who claim to follow the One God!

The Effects of Monotheism

Around the world, the rise of the monotheism was accompanied by intolerance and persecution. In a world where it was accepted that there were many Gods and Goddesses, religious wars were hardly possible. It was assumed that each pantheon had a special relationship with a particular tribe, race, or nation. No single deity or collection of deities demanded the right to rule all mankind; Gods and Goddesses were not particularly transferable from one group to another.
Monotheism changed all that. If there was only one God, the Gods of the tribe across the river became demons, usurping the devotion that should go to the One True God. The followers of those Gods were now devil worshippers, and they must be killed for their heresy. Conquest, previously justified by greed, now had a new motivation - righteousness! It was the beginning of a bloody phase of human history that continues down to the present.

Anywhere monotheism met polytheism, the followers of the One God went on the offensive. Horrible things were done in the name of religion. Monotheism was accepted peacefully in only a very few cases. More typically, the confrontation of belief systems meant wars lasting for years or generations. Only after about a thousand years of conflict did the tribes of Europe officially surrender their native ways - and even then, remnants of the old faiths survived in the remote regions beyond the reach of "law and order."

Looking at this record of intolerance and outright genocide, it is hard to claim that monotheism, in and of itself, has bestowed any blessing on mankind. We cannot help but contrast this with societies where many Gods and Goddesses were known: Although polytheistic cultures waged wars of greed and conquest, at least they felt no need to convert their neighbors. Religious war was unknown in Europe until the coming of monotheism - and since that time, sectarian strife has not ceased - as the Irish can testify.

Polytheism and Liberty

Another way in which polytheism differs from monotheism is in regard to political freedom. By its very nature, polytheism promotes real freedom of choice. Monotheism offers only one option for worship, and it historically enforced that option with a social structure in which authority flows from the top downward. One God, one ruler - the idea of the "divine right of kings" came only after monotheism took control of society.

Without exception, our concepts of freedom can be traced to the polytheistic tribes of Europe. Representative government in Europe and America derives from the Germanic tribal assemblies. Centuries before the British parliament was founded, Iceland was governed by a nation-wide legislative and judicial assembly called the Althing; the same is true of the Isle of Man. Tribal leaders were generally chosen by the leading families or by the entire assembly of freemen. Some tribes did not even have a real leader, except in time of war.

Our deepest ideas of law derive from the Germanic world, through the Norse and the Anglo-Saxons (Hence "Anglo-Saxon Common Law"). Indeed, the very word "law" comes from Old Norse, not from Roman, Greek, or Hebrew. Indigenous European law applied to all freemen, and the king was not above it; defiance of tyrannical rulers is a common thread running through the old sagas of Europe. Iceland was colonized in the ninth century to provide escape from the dictatorial edicts of Olaf Tryggvason, the law-breaking king who forced his countrymen to accept monotheism or die.

Many of the individual freedoms we take for granted in the West today had their counterparts in our ancient tribes. Women in traditional Germanic culture had many more rights than did their sisters in later centuries. Similarly, the right to bear arms belonged to all freemen in Germanic society - a right that eroded after the triumph of monotheism.
The list can go on and on, but the essence is this: Northern Europe, under its traditional, ancestral religion was dominated by republics with built-in safeguards to protect the rights of the free folk. After the destruction of that religion, royal power was centralized at the expense of the ancient checks and balances, and human freedom was drastically lessened. These rights were painfully regained through the centuries, with the Magna Charta, the American Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States.

In summary, freedom is a birthright from our polytheistic ancestors in Europe, not something we imported from monotheists!

A Summary: Monotheism and Polytheism in the Balance

The variety of natural phenomena and the multiplicity of human races and cultures all argue for polytheism and against monotheism. The truth of polytheism is attested by thousands of years of observations by holy men and wise women, mystics, and shamans.

Monotheism has been the main cause of religious warfare, which began in ancient times and has continued to this morning's news. Our political freedoms are rooted in native, polytheistic belief - and those freedoms have typically diminished when monotheism has gained control.

Luckily for us, the Way of our ancestors remains open to us. And to find ourselves, to serve our kin and to attain our destiny, we must stride boldly through that door. It is, after all, the front door to our own home - the spiritual home that served us well for countless millennia and still offers us comfort, dignity and freedom today.

Source (http://www.runestone.org/flash/introduction/lesson_2.html)