‘The Deities are Many: A Polytheistic Theology’ by Jordan Paper

I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads, and since it’s so relevant to many people who read my blog, I thought I’d share the review here. Even if you’re not a polytheist, this book is full of really insightful discussion about other cultures and their beliefs and deities, and I think a lot of you would enjoy it.

Oh, and happy Grianstad an tSamhraidh, or Alban Hefin, or Midsummer, or Solstice!..

This is a well-researched, insightful book. I recommend it to all polytheists who want to understand the ways in which our thinking is still plagued by Western influences, which affect our (poly)theology, our understanding of the gods. The book is fantastic on the problems of ethnocentric, post-colonial thinking, and the way it has affected our view of non-Western cultures and their deities.

I particularly liked the chapters that described the way language can affect our theology – like the Christian missionaries that defined the beliefs of Native American tribes as being about a ‘great spirit’, when that’s not at all how many tribes’ rituals translate. It’s also wonderful in its addressing of our ethnocentric (and often just *wrong*) views on ‘shamanism’, and how these views can be damaging to other cultures.

There was food for thought here about how monism and mysticism don’t have to conflict with polytheism, which was fascinating to me. I understand most mysticism as monistic, as the writer here does, and I’ve wondered whether that sense of the ‘oneness of the universe’ conflicts with the diversity of polytheism. Not at all, in many cultures, according to the writer. This got me thinking about the debates between polytheists and non-polytheistic Pagans, and whether this is far more of a Western, ethnocentric, modern debate than we realise. It was good to have another way described to me.

Ultimately this is more a sociology/anthropology book than a theology study, but it’s enlightening and definitely worth a read. My two criticisms are a) that the author doesn’t understand neo-paganism and barely references it, and b) that, while he criticizes the ethnocentric use of the term ‘shamanism’ in our cultures, he goes on to use the term ‘shamanistic’ for the way in which he he relates to his deities and beliefs. That said, the book is fascinating and really got me thinking in new ways about polytheism. Wonderful.

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