I’ve been doing a lot of reading about religion these past months leading up to studying Druidry in a more intentional way. Among the texts that really stood out for me was Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. The book has little to do with Druidry, but rather documents the rise of Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, monotheism in Israel and philosophical rationalism in Greece in what she calls the axial age. The Axial Age, a name coined by German philosopher Karl Jaspers, spans the period from 800 b.c. to 200 b.c. Armstrong argues that the dominant themes (in particular the rise of compassion) of the major world religions are a product of this age in religious philosophy.
The experience of reading this book underscored some of my questions about religion and relationship to Creation. What struck me at this point in my journey is that, like language, societal beliefs about religion and what is “right” have evolved over time. Dominance of a belief is not necessarily a measure of its validity or correctness. For centuries before the development of the “Big Three”, people were worshiping other gods. In the book of Deuteronomy, God commands “You shall have no other Gods before me.” Even children in Christian church know about this prohibition against idolatry. In my mind, I always associated this with images, statues, symbols. You know, graven images. I never really stopped to think about the idea that people of the time and region literally were worshiping other Gods.
The sheer diversity of beliefs about God always makes me question why. Why is any one belief or conception of God more valid than another? Why is it acceptable to worship the Christian God over, say, the Goddess? Why does most of my culture believe there is one God, who is invariably given masculine attributes? What happened to the feminine face of God? Is God single and male? Is She single and female? Neither? Both? Does both mean one God with a masculine and feminine aspect? Or is God beyond notions of gender? Or is there a God and Goddess? A whole pantheon of Gods and Goddesses? Are they really separate Gods or just aspects of the same God(s)? Or is God simply beyond knowing?
Even with all my questions and doubts about the idea of The One True God, polytheism is not something that feels entirely comfortable or natural to me at this point, especially not hard polytheism. Broadening out into Neo-Paganism, even if one accepts the idea of polytheism, there are questions there too: Am I a hard polytheist? A soft polytheist? Why develop a relationship with the Irish pantheon instead of the Hellenic one? Or would Asatru put on its horned Viking hat and charge forth to kick their asses and steal their lunch money? Do I evenneed a pantheon? How does one even choose?
I really don’t know the answer. Honestly, I’m not even sure if one can. And that is confounding and exciting at the same time. One of the things that I am trying really hard to do as I embark on this journey of discovery is to abandon my preconceptions about deity and explore ideas that may be new, radical or even uncomfortable to me. The only thing I can say for certain at this point in my life is that there are many paths to the mountain top and that the one I take must be paved with kindness, love and compassion toward our earth and all life. That leaves a lot of room for exploration!