From One to Many: Unpacking Monotheistic Baggage
Updated: Feb 25
Lately there’ve been many conversations in the polytheist community about the ways monotheistic baggage can hinder an active polytheistic religious practice. Many of us who came to polytheism as adults carry religious traumas of various severity from being immersed in monotheism to one degree or another throughout our lives. The baggage we carry around can feel immense, and can include things like fear of angering the Gods, fear of “doing it wrong”, fear of becoming outcasts from our families or communities, and fear that we are delusional to think the Gods might speak to us today. Of course this is a partial list: a brief, informal survey of the polytheists I know yielded a very long list of ways monotheistic thinking can get in the way of polytheist practice.
It seems if we want to build thriving practices and communities, we need to unpack that baggage, piece by piece, and de-program ourselves from the prevailing religious ideas of our monotheistic over culture. These ideas are embedded so deeply in much contemporary thought that we often don’t even realize we’ve internalized them until we sit down to talk to our Gods, or make an offering, or create a ritual, and find ourselves frozen with anxiety or completely uncertain of how to proceed.
So my good friends Raechel, Jane and I are starting a series of conversations about polytheistic practice and monotheistic baggage, intended to help us - and, hopefully, the rest of our community - process our issues and, most importantly, move beyond them so we can fully engage with our Gods and do the work They want us to do in the world. Starting next week, we’ll be posting occasional conversations about these issues, and how we are working through them in our own lives.
Before we share these conversations, however, we want to lay a foundation for all of us to build on. So here are some things you need to know about this series.
First and foremost, it’s important to be clear about what polytheism IS. For the purposes of this series of posts, we define polytheism as the dictionary does, as “belief in or worship of more than one God”. It’s important to read all the words in that definition: belief in. Worship of. More than one God. Our definition includes a belief in the Gods as real beings - not as archetypes or energies or manifestations of nature, but as divine PEOPLE. It includes an understanding that these Gods are deserving of our worship. And it includes an understanding that there are many Gods, with distinct personalities and agency. It shouldn’t be confused with pantheism, Jungian archetypes, or “all Gods are faces of one God” style monotheism.
We define religious trauma as the particular kind of trauma inflicted by stressful and/or abusive religious experiences and indoctrination.
We define religious baggage as the ways that trauma weighs us down and prevents us from moving forward, especially into a new religious practice.
Who We Are
We are polytheists practicing a variety of traditions, devoted to a variety of Gods. Our polytheism is intertwined with witchcraft, so many of our conversations might touch on magic as well as religion. We each bring very different knowledge and experiences to the table, and hopefully this will make our conversations helpful to a variety of people. A bit more about each of us:
Raechel Larsen (they/them) is a queer, autistic witch living in the PNW with their husband and two cats. They found witchcraft and the Gods three years ago, and haven’t looked back since. Their practice is Hellenic inspired, with Norse ancestral roots. They are a death midwife in training, and an imperfect, messy devotee. They love coffee, and rambling, late-night conversations about religion and witchcraft.
Michelle Simkins (she/her) is a polytheist, witch, writer, gardener, and artisan based in the Pacific Northwest. She is a devotee of The Mórrigan and a priest in training. When she isn’t writing about Gods, spirits, and nature, she’s puttering in the garden, knitting, or talking about plants way too much. In addition to this website, you can find her on Instagram and Twitter.
Jane Goblin (she/her) is an anonymous dragon. She lives in the middle of a cornfield with her 120 year old house, a lovely garden and her family. She makes art and messes and has a healthy fascination with compost.
A Few Guidelines
It’s our hope that this series of posts will uplift and enrich our polytheist communities. While we will be discussing religious baggage, we’re not here to bash any particular religion or group of people. We hope you’ll think about our conversations and share your thoughts in the comments, but we won’t allow this to turn into a prolonged bitch session. Abusive comments of all kinds - including comments that slam other religions - will be deleted.
Please be aware that witchcraft and religion are not therapy, and we are not mental health professionals or ministers. While we believe in supporting our community, we are legally prohibited from providing any kind of mental health services or counseling. If you are suffering from religious trauma and need help, we urge you to seek out a qualified mental health professional. Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” page might help. (If you're not in the United States, click the globe icon at the top of the page to choose your country).
Healing from Religious Trauma - free download from KC Davis of Strugglecare
More from this Website
A Brief Theistic Lexicon, for further explorations of the definition of polytheism and other religious terms.
Cutting Religious Ties, for thoughts on leaving one religion to embrace another.
We're looking forward to sharing this journey with our community, to help facilitate these conversations that feel long overdue. We hope to see you there.
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Suitcase photo by Richard James, Courtesy of unsplash.com