Remember that little thing you were told when you were just starting out as a Pagan? We’re an accepting bunch, we won’t judge you because of who you are and how you worship. We don’t believe there’s only one way to the Divine, so we can’t be intolerant, right?
Yeah, that’s a lie.
I’ve been a Pagan of various branches (first Hellenic polytheism, then Wicca, then eclectic Paganism, then Hellenic polytheism again) for eight years now, and an active member of various communities for four. Most of the time, people are friendly and discussion is thought-provoking, but on sadly regular occasions, I’ve found myself disturbed by what some people have said about other religions. Just yesterday, on one of the Facebook groups I’m a member of, someone posted a picture of Jesus with this caption:
It’s like this. I created man and woman with original sin. Then I destroyed most of them for sinning. Then I impregnated a woman with myself as her child, so that I could be born. Later, I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself to save all of you from the sin I gave you in the first place.
Admittedly, this does bring up several discrepancies within Christianity that require a bit of explanation. But the tone of the text, coupled with the comments that followed (“lol there are a lot of contradictions”; “if you put Heracles and Jesus in a room you know who’s walking out”) made me very uncomfortable. Only one person had the common sense to hint at the complex history of Christianity, and the fact that when you boil it down like this without taking its nuances into account, of course it’s not going to make sense.
No religion makes sense when you put it as bluntly as this. Jesus was sacrificed to himself – so what? Aphrodite was born when her father’s severed genitals impregnated the sea. Loki gave birth to an eight-legged horse. All Gods are individual, separate entities, except when they aren’t.*
I can already hear the Pagans arguing that yes, mythology states that about Aphrodite, but it was meant to be metaphorical, and the Gods’ identities are… Are what? Easily explained? So is Jesus’ sacrifice. A Catholic once explained to me that it was the continuation of Jewish animal sacrifice (hence why Jesus died at Passover, a feast commemorating when God passed over – in other words, didn’t kill – every Jewish family which had sacrificed a lamb to Him), a kind of ultimate sacrifice ensuring that it would never need to be done again. And what greater sacrifice to offer than a part of divinity itself? The parallel with polytheistic sacrifice, purification and even reciprocity is clear.
And yet non-Pagan religions retain a separate status within our communities, a status that allows them to be targeted in a way no Pagan path would. Some other behaviours I have encountered across the years include blaming monotheistic religions for world violence (as if polytheistic societies weren’t violent), patriarchy (even though polytheistic Rome was one of the most repressive societies for women) and a lot more, including calling Islam a heresy and encouraging polytheists to “rise up against” Christianity, “this bastion of white privilege, colonialism, and destruction and bring it down stone by stone, or head by head if that’s what it takes”. Admittedly, the person who wrote that (prominent blogger Galina Krasskova) did agree that there are also good monotheists, but does that make the rest of her text okay?
Another behaviour that is becoming increasingly common – not particularly problematic compared to others, but still a pet peeve of mine – is the dismissal of Yahweh and Jesus. Apparently they didn’t exist, or weren’t Gods. I find that strange, considering that we are polytheists. For people who believe in dozens of Gods scattered across one or more pantheons, what difference does an extra God or two make? The least we can do is to stay neutral on the existence of pantheons other than our own.
I understand that many Pagans, Hellenic polytheists included, come from monotheistic backgrounds and that some of them have been extremely hurt by bigoted and ignorant Christian, Muslim or Jewish people. I understand that they may be bitter towards their previous faith. But that gives them no excuse to belittle it. Christians, Muslims and Jews (and everyone else) deserve to be held to the same standard as Pagans. If you don’t like them stepping on your beliefs, don’t step on theirs, either.
Because no religion is entirely good or entirely bad. Abrahamic faiths have that Leviticus verse about homosexuality being an abomination. Hellenic polytheists have Delphic Maxim #95, “rule your wife”. Each religion has its complexities, its theology to explain them, and its idiots who don’t understand them. As Pagans, we have no right to mock others while turning a blind eye to our own bigots and discrepancies. It’s simply hypocritical.
Back in ancient times, religion wasn’t a matter of “I believe this and I’m right, you believe that and you’re stupid”. The boundaries between pantheons fluctuated, local cultus was assimilated into official worship, foreign Gods were not worshipped but were respected all the same. This still exists within modern Paganism and its various branches (though not always – Pagan discrimination of Pagans happens too), but it’s time we applied to people of other faiths as well. Sure, their beliefs and customs can be giggled at – Herodotus did a fair bit of that in his Histories. But not mocked. Whether we like it or not, these people are still a sizable portion of our society, and community and coexistence being so highly valued by most polytheistic religions, they deserve to be treated as such.
Many people come to Pagan faiths to escape bigotry in their birth religions. One day, I hope that we will be able to tell them, in all honesty, that they’ve found the place they’re looking for.
*Zeus Serapis. Roman Apollo and Hellenic Apollon. Astarte and Ishtar, depending on who you ask.