There seems to be focus recently on spiritual community, the value of said community and its strengths. In fact this is nothing new, religious community has been a big deal online for years, a focus on finding others, and a sense of desiring solidarity of belief and ethics on a spiritual level. I have come to the opinion that this is largely a monotheistic hangover. While it is nice to have other folks who “get it”, our desire to have this solidarity is religio-political more than anything else, and likely something which helped Christianity to overwhelm and crush polytheistic worship. Because of its political effectiveness, there are many who feel that this is a strength. And certainly a coming together of various groups in a loose form of solidarity has helped make some positive changes. The problem is that any form of spiritual community and solidarity is not much more than illusion that some people try so hard to cling to. A desire that pervades that we should all be under one strong identifiable umbrella for religio-political reasons. However along with trying to fit under an indefinable singular “pagan” religious movement rather than many spiritual movements working cooperatively is that it forces the position of identity that does not fit everyone for the sake of having a political religious identity that is identifiable in a legal sense. The reason I say it is an illusion is because it is entirely forced rather than organic and placing an importance on a singular religious community idea that has never been a huge part of many historical polytheistic traditions. Trying to make such diversity agree as a singular body is ultimately impossible.
Yet this pursuit of spiritual community will leave people feeling as if they need to find this fit of community, and encountering lacking in that area can lead to feelings of befuddlement, alienation, and isolation. This is, more often than not, a result of placing worship focus on having community. In “local pagan communities” (I am using the term here very loosely for a purpose) you find people operating on a principle of participating in worship as a community service. A “I will support your worship by attending if you will return the favor” mentality. This is making worship in a social support in which religiosity is based on spiritual community. In a sense it is the same as above by enforcing an idea of spiritual standards which it is assumed that everyone adheres to and which is translatable across everyone under this imaginary “pagan umbrella”.
The reason why Polytheists can have such a difficult time with this, from my perspective is that most of us are deity focused rather than community focused. This aligns with our spiritual heritage in which the importance is placed on the gods and family rather than a sense of a broad “community”. In fact often time efforts to make everyone fit into a singular Hellenic body among Hellenics for instance has failed miserably. Why? Because like many Polytheists religious groupings, we don’t have that underlying spiritual agreement. The core values of the Hellenic religion, and a number of other polytheistic traditions, are focused on piety to the god, honoring one’s family/parents/ancestors and service to one’s state (not spiritual community but literal local state/country and the laws governing it). This is something that Pagans can have a difficult time understanding, and their understandable frustration that most Polytheists just aren’t interested in “playing nice” and working within a larger pagan community, and in fact often aren’t part of it at all. This is not the case of all Polytheists though, there many folks who comfortably sit in both camps. Still for the larger majority of Polytheists who just do our own thing I can understand why it is frustrating, because it is not part of our spiritual core values. This is not to malign Pagan traditions which do share common core spiritual values that make them more cohesive as a community than Polytheists, but to demonstrate why most of us don’t fit within the Pagan community framework.
To put it more simply I will put it this way to show how, as example, Hellenic “community” worked. When someone says that a traditional polytheistic religion is a home cult foremost, that is quite literal. Attention to one’s ancestors is priority and the gods of one’s household. While often households had a common set of core deities that presided over the households in general, each household literally was considered as being spiritually individual and unique with its own collection of household gods which overall could and did vary from household to household.
Of course one might protest and point out how many public festivals were held and temples were erected. In response to this I would put it simply, such things were civic (part of the government structure) which depended on the devotion of the people and their piety to the gods. To put it another way people did not worship with each other in a sense of a singular cohesive spiritual community, but rather coming together solely in spirit of giving honor to the gods and to affirm the relationship of the people and the city overall with the gods. It had nothing to do with a core set of personal shared beliefs so much as respect and piety towards the gods. As such you find very different festivals and regards to the gods that varied sometimes drastically from city to city. Dialogue regarding spiritual corruption more often than not was about civil disturbance that was seen to disrupt the relationship of the city with the gods. Not about personal belief. The coming together for the purpose to honor the gods is the core of Polytheistic community. Worship is not about community but about the gods. The numbers involved just depends on how many people have the desire to give worship at that time to that deity. The deity or deities being honored is the sole purpose, and the priority. Who gives worship and doesn’t give worship doesn’t matter as we don’t worship for purpose of community. It is the individual piety one has towards a particular deity that determines whether or not they participate and is no one’s business but their own. Participation is between the individual and the gods. Even the mystery programs were highly personal experiences and such highly mystical, rather than a cohesive spiritual community in the way that people seem to define it.
Of course from the outside view this gives the appearance that we don’t have strength as a Polytheistic religious movement. That we have no cohesive identity. Yet our devotion and spiritual focus to the gods is what makes us strong. We don’t need to have an agreeable singular identity. We don’t need to be the same unlike the Pagan mantra that “we are all the same”. In polytheism is not necessary. In fact identifying and understanding our differences but valuing the richness of the diversity is part of our strength. I have said before in response to posts on other blogs that I get more out participating in rituals to specific deities from traditional polytheistic worship than I do in worship in a general pagan spiritual community. I understand the ethos and the focus and often am participating our of respect to the god, not for some pretend spiritual solidarity. It may not be a god of my tradition and household, nor one that I personally give regular worship to. But if it is a god that I admire and respect I will be there. This is the difference. It is not to say that Polytheism is better than Paganism so much because to each their own (and people will find their own places that they belong in their relationship to the gods and worship), but that it is inherently different at the core. This is to help people understand why having two separate movements are necessary.