Association of Polytheist Traditions
or The Untraditioned Polytheist
Copyright © by Toby Lamb 2005
Go to a new moot, camp, open ritual, whatever, and one of the first things you're asked, after "What do you want to drink?" and "Aren't you cold in that?" is "What path do you follow?" The answer for me is always "My own." Not very helpful, I know, but with integrity I can't say anything else. I suppose it's my sense of personal integrity that means I can't follow any other path, or identify 100% with any one tradition in the glorious diversity that is paganism (and for me, 'hard' polytheism) in this day and age.
Now I'm not saying for one minute that people who do identify themselves as Heathen, Druid, Wiccan or whatever have less integrity than me - many have far more. If you find the structure and beliefs of any one system fit you perfectly, give you a route to completely express your own innate spirituality and leave you fulfilled and at peace with your gods, then you're a lucky person indeed. If you find that the gods of any one cultural polytheon, be they the Tuatha de Dannan, the Aesir and Vanir, the Olympians or even Cthulhu & Co, are all the gods you need - and more importantly are the only ones who come knocking on (or down) your door - then you're truly blessed and I admire and slightly envy you. You can follow one religion, immerse yourself in one culture and perfect and perform one set of rituals with full integrity and devotion (or whatever your gods require). I can't.
I'm a 'hard' polytheist, which means that I experience gods to be individuals with free will and discrete and independent existence. My experiences tell me that there is an underpinning pattern to everything, something Heathens call Wyrd and visualise often as a weaving, with the threads of our lives interwoven with those of the people, places, gods and spirits around us - and for me it's just that - an exquisitely beautiful, endless and infinite pattern containing all possibility and potential but, crucially, not personality. It's not God or Goddess or Universal Consciousness or the Panpsychic Mind - it's just the interwoven patterns of existence. Within that pattern, there are gods, goddesses, spirits, wights, archetypes, human (and possibly non-human) beings, animals, plants, rocks, clouds, oceans, waves, amoebae, bacteria, viruses, molecules, atoms, not necessarily in that order, but all singing their part of the great Song. Of course, this is all a model - a metaphor for existence. Life isn't really held together by the threads of a great weaving made by three women sat by a well; molecules don't really sing. But I need an image, an allegory, a myth of How Things Are and my image is my own - if I start using the myths and stories of other people or cultures I get lost, I lose the big picture and get bogged down in unpicking meanings from stories that I didn't write, so I can't ever truly know what the author him or herself really meant, really saw, was really trying to express. With my own myth, I can.
I have relationships with a number of people. Some of these people I met at work, some of them were friends of friends, some I met by chance and have stayed in touch with, some I sought out deliberately because of what they could do for me. Some sought me out because of what I could do for them. Some people I keep contact with because I like them, or I like me when I'm with them. Some I keep contact with because they are useful people to know and we have a mutually beneficial relationship. Some I love. For me, it's the same with gods and goddesses. Epona is a warm breath on my neck and a strong maternal presence; Eostre fills me to overflowing with hope and joy. For neither of these two ladies (OK - one mare, one lady) have I done anything other than respond to their presence with love and delight. Athene sends me little signs sometimes when I'm about to do something stupid with my life. I respond with gifts of red wine and olive oil. Woden I've only just started having much to do with after an impressive vision of his suffering on the world tree - I suspect he will expect a little more of me than flowers and wine.
So you can see that my gods aren't all from one polytheon - they're Greek, Roman, Gaulish, Heathen, Irish and British. Where does that leave my sense of spiritual belonging? Well, no-where really and that causes a certain amount of tension. For example, I would love to celebrate my relationships with my gods with other people, but who? And how? I'd have to belong to a Heathen hearth and a Druid grove. I'd have to celebrate with Romano-Brits, Hellenists, Celts and possibly even horses. A blur of traditions, languages, beliefs, rituals - contradictions and incompatibilities; other people's experiences, metaphors and myths.
"So anyway," I hear you say, "what path do you follow?"
Mostly what I do is listen. I listen to the song of the world around me, the patterns and interweavings of melodies that connect me with everything else. I listen to my gods singing about the things that delight them. In silence I join my song with theirs, knowing that my voice just isn't up to the task and that what I can hear is only a tiny fraction of the whole. Much of what I do is based on my own direct experience of my gods. I saw Eostre once as I walked with my dog across a field - I was so moved that the next day, I took a big bunch of daffodils to the place I saw her and left it there as an offering. In my garden there are little wights who like honey halva and cider - my house is built where orchards used to stand - and I leave some out for them once in a while. When Athene visits me with one of her little messages, I climb a hill and pour out good red wine and virgin olive oil in her name. I offer Freyr mead in the woods, Freyja homemade herb schnapps in my bedroom. All these little things are outward signs that I have an ever-deepening relationship with my gods - they're not big rituals, just little signs that I'm listening. I take the trouble to read and learn about them too. I want to learn about other peoples experiences to compare with my own - I want to make sure that my experiences are genuine, not wild fantasy, so comparing them with those of others is vital, even if the others lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, but the personal experience - the relationship with the divine - always comes first.
As for a name for this path of mine, I've yet to find one that fits. I'll just call it 'mine' for now.