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PantheaCon, Paganism, and Syncretism Or, “Let’s Get Literal!”

By P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

[Snip] Many modern Pagans, polytheists, and others of an alternative and specifically non-Christiaan outlook are somewhat biased against the entire concept of “literality” when it comes to anything religious. Enforced biblical literalism in some denominations is what a great many people who eventually leave Christianity cite as one of the things about it which is intolerable. This same idea is then carried over to non-Christian religions, including various forms of polytheism and Paganism.

I suspect that this “non-literal” approach to things, and the near-insistence upon it, is why so many mainstream Pagans do not understand polytheism and tend to call us “fundamentalists” and so forth. I know very few (if any) polytheists who insist on a literal interpretation of any myth in any one of the cultures from which we draw our inspirations and our practices; I also know very few who, whatever about the factual impossibility or non-literal approach they might have to myths, do not approach myth as something containing deep truths not only about cultures and their outlooks, but also (and more importantly) about their theologies and the personalities of our deities.

Things get deeper than that, however, and the critique of polytheism often arises from other forms of Paganism along the lines of “You actually believe in the literal existence of your deities,” as if a deity is in some sense “more powerful” if it remains a figment of someone’s imagination, an archetype that is only a localized form of some more universal “force” inherent in the human psyche, or some other notion which robs the deities in question of individual and independent identity, volition, and existence. As I have said on other occasions in other places, modern mainstream Paganism is one of the only religions I’ve ever encountered that considers actually believing in the supernatural aspects of its religion as “fundamentalism.”

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