Inter-Faith, Polytheistic Discussions: Are They Really Possible?

I’ve been mulling this over for a few weeks now. I’ve constantly harried myself, back and forth, about whether this is an actual possibility.

On the face of it, based on the positive sentiments I’ve received from various Tumblr users over the months when I do make posts regarding my polytheistic faith and the turns it takes, I can say that yes, it is possible. However, this is merely on the “face of things.” If we don’t look any deeper than the public aspects that I post on Tumblr, then everything is fine and dandy; we have roses and sunshine and rainbows dropping down around us. If we don’t discuss things that can be considered the very meat and potatoes of this particular Kemetic practitioner’s path, then we can have very positive, happy, thrilling conversations that really get me going in the thought department.

But I’m not the person that just let’s you catch a glimpse of what things may be going on at this moment. This entire blog is about the very real and often very confusing questions that I pose to myself and to anyone willing to read. There’s a very real reason why I chose the title, “Mystical Bewilderment,” and have kept it in the nearly three years I’ve owned this blog. The title is just as valid today as it was when I first created this blog: I’m constantly searching, constantly wondering, and always guessing. I can’t tell anyone what anything really is at any given moment because my views may change from second to second, day to day, month to month. (ADHD polytheism, anyone?) I’m the type of person who, if stuck, will tell you about it. I am the kind of person who, if having issues with a very major tenet to my faith, I’m going to admit it and hopefully be able to fully digest and discuss what those issues are with other fellow practitioners.

I did this very real thing when I posted my Kemetism is Orthopraxic: Live in Ma’at entry. I admitted that I had definitive feels on two very real examples of what some other Kemetics have decided what living in ma’at entailed and that I didn’t agree with either of them. Now, a lot of people commented on that particular blog entry. However, most of the people who had something to say had no fucking clue what I was talking about because they’re not Kemetic. I suppose they have correlations with ma’at in their religious practices, or else they think they do. Again, I will reiterate that defining ma’at in a language as completely on drugs as English is next to impossible.

The basis of my blog entry was pretty much just me admitting that I’m at a loss here with ma’at. I can clearly define what I do not believe it is, but I cannot say definitively what it is to me. This message was clearly lost in the flurry of responses, on the various Internet communication sites available. While the Kemetic viewpoints are important because they have a basis in the very problem I am experiencing or they are at least able to agree with me in some ways (such as Sard’s admission that ma’at is difficult to define), the responses that hold no scope on ma’at make me pause. Can they really comment on the very real issue I am having at this moment if they don’t know what ma’at is? Can they full comprehend the overall problem that I am experiencing if their religious reconstruction doesn’t have a similar concept?

It’s one thing to offer components of discussion when realizing that there is no similarity or basis for a full-on discussion. It is quite another when it comes down to personally attacking someone because they don’t quite agree with someone else’s theological essay on a core tenet to a faith the attacking person doesn’t even follow. And it is entirely another when those personal attacks are (A) based on something that happened nearly a year ago and may not have any basis on the discussion itself and (B) the following commentary is from two opposing polytheistic faiths. If I’m having problems with a core tenet to my faith, then so be it. However, if you don’t have a similar core tenant (and ma’at, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly and will continue to do so, is just something that cannot be easily explained nor seems to have a basis in other polytheisms) then how can a conversation between the two flourish?

As another example, let’s talk about hubris in Hellenic polytheism. This is apparently a very big, huge taboo in Hellenism. I think it has something to do with thinking you’re a god, from what I’ve gathered from Tumblr users. When this quote went around, I asked Hellenic polytheists to explain the “hubris” concept to me. As a Kemetic, we don’t have this concept in Kemetism. In fact, one could go so far to say that it is “foreign” to Kemetics. How the Hellenic practitioners view it is an entirely foreign concept to me. After having numerous people helpfully explaining the concept to me from a Hellenic viewpoint, I had to admit that this concept was beyond me and probably always would be. If it comes up on the blogs of Hellenics that I follow, I tend to ignore it. I have nothing constructive or helpful to say as the concept is beyond me. (I also know I’m not the only Kemetic who feels this way.)

I don’t attack others for having a different view from me. I don’t attack people because I feel like I can just… muscle my way in to a discussion that I “should” be a part of. I have no basis for this particular discussion and I cannot add to it. So, why bother? It’s not just about spoon management or about adding an opinion. It’s about the fact that I cannot be helpful or otherwise to anyone if I don’t understand the concept. And I can admit, clearly, I just don’t fucking get it. (As can be evidenced by the loose definition I offered above.) And I probably never will.

Based on the two above examples, it is feasible to admit that certain concepts in various polytheistic circles just do not translate either well or at all. In the case of hubris, it does not exist in a Kemetic context. In the case of ma’at, it does not exist in a Celtic, Hellenic, or Nordic context. Each branch has confusing aspects to it, sure. However, the confusing bits aren’t all the same. (Wyrd seems to be a bit of a toughy for Nordic and Heathen practitioners, which doesn’t have a correlation in Kemetism, either, as far as I know.) And those confusing bits may not translate in any context outside of those particular branches. So, is it appropriate for me to muscle in, add a few comments, and walk right back out?

And, you know, it isn’t merely that these concepts don’t translate across cultural or religious lines, but the fact that in some instances, we can’t even agree on a universal meaning behind these concepts. Case in point, the hubris definition that was given to me varied from user to user. The ma’at definition as given to me by various Kemetics, again, varied from user to user. There were some similarities in both of those example definitions, but all in all, each specific user had their own particular flavor to add to the definitions in question. This makes it even harder for an outsider, such as myself, to make a fully informed or helpful comment besides, “Oh, gee, that’s interesting,” to people having a discussion about hubris. Or, in like mind, one can even go so far as to say that without an all-encompassing definition of ma’at to be given to an outsider, there are very few comments that can be made from other polytheistic circles aside from, “hm, that’s very neat.”

I will admit here: I am a large advocate on inter-faith discussions. I am not specific in the blogs that I follow on Tumblr or on WP for this very reason. I enjoy reading other polytheists’ blogs. I like to see a full complement of possibilities surrounding me at any given moment, which is why I am so varied in regards to who I follow. (I also do this so that, should a neophyte need assistance, I can hopefully point them in a good and proper direction.) However, there are a lot of instances in which I keep my mouth shut because I don’t understand where the specific practitioner is coming from because I have no correlation in my practice. I know I’m not alone there; I can’t be.

But really, what it all boils down to is, differences aside: Is it even possible to have these discussions with outsider polytheists whose religions don’t have the same belief systems or structures?

Based on some the reactions out there and the above that I’ve cataloged, I’m going to have to say, no.

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9 thoughts on “Inter-Faith, Polytheistic Discussions: Are They Really Possible?

  1. Never neglect the possibility that if something sounds inscrutable to you, it might be because it’s crap. That quote about hubris, for instance, is crap. The ancient Hellenic concept of hubris, as opposed to the Christianized modern sense of the word, is simply the violent abuse of power, and this is a concept that pretty much every culture has. Here’s the Perseus entry on the verb form of the word, hubrizô, so you can see what it properly means: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Du%28bri%2Fzw

  2. I’m not going to ask you to take down the link to my post, even though I see it (and the discussion in the comments) as an example of disagreement at the praxis level rather than an example of how interfaith discussion fails. Then again, I’m Kemetic.

  3. One could say Christians don’t agree on things, and they have a single holy book to go from. If we remember that ‘religion x’ isn’t ours, and we should be listening and asking rather than telling, I think we can get somewhere.
    I think you’re on to something, though. All these polytheist religions aren’t just the same cake with different gods pasted on like frosting. And very few people talk about what those different cakes are made of.
    And what about people starting out? They look at different pantheons and try to decide which to go with, but nobody knows the cakes.

    • I think it’s the problem with “listening” that happens. If I have to tell my 5-year-old to turn on his ears all the time, I can only assume it doesn’t get better with age.

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