Polytheism and FoDLA

Rev. Todd Covert

Polytheism and FoDLA

A central feature of the Neo-Druidism of FoDLA is the notion that it is a polytheistic spiritual path. On the surface, this is not an especially controversial notion: Most modern pagans understand that “polytheism” refers to belief in multiple gods and/or goddesses. It is worth considering the specific integration of polytheism into practice within FoDLA–especially group ritual practice–to help newcomers decide if the community of Draíocht Nua is appropriate for them.

In principle, “polytheism” could be taken to mean worship of as few as two deities. Taken in this way, the common Wiccan reverence of a “Lord” and “Lady” could be seen as an instance of polytheistic religion–and, indeed, FoDLA rituals have proven to be quite accessible for solitary Wiccans looking for community at the seasonal festivals. But, in practice, FoDLA is part of a broader movement generally referred to as “reconstructionist paganism” within which an emphasis tends to be placed on working with the deities seen as individuals with distinct personalities (or sometimes multiple personae), residing within an identifiable cultural context (think of the Olympian pantheon or the Norse gods and goddesses in Asgard, for instance). From this perspective, focusing solely on two overarching male and female divinities is usually seen as “duotheistic” rather than “polytheistic”–especially when the many deities are seen as simply guises of two primal, archetypal figures. Again, this doesn’t preclude someone holding a duotheistic point-of-view from participating meaningfully in Draíocht Nua–one need only be mindful that the community is more heavily populated with those who worship more numerous deities.

How many deities must one worship to function comfortably within FoDLA ritual customs? At the least, it seems that at least two Powers are essential recipients of our worship as a community: Sovereignty and the First Ancestor. Sovereignty may be identified with the vitality of the Land itself and is normally approached as feminine in character. Often, this goddess may be seen as residing in the local landscape or a river. The First Ancestor (e.g., the Irish Donn or sometimes Bile) is usually seen as the keeper of the feast hall of the Dead. Between these two figures, much of creation, fertility, death, and afterlife is addressed. Beyond that, in locating faith in the Land and in Ancestry, one has leeway to adopt a spiritual perspective that leans either toward or away from a heavy emphasis on the supernatural without apology.

The Founding Vision for FoDLA makes plain that the community is primarily for English speakers residing in the United States and that English language honorifics for deities are entirely welcome in ritual. This includes titles such as “Lord of the Dead,” “Keeper of the Ways between the Worlds,” “Mother of the Waters,” and so forth. In addition, as Draíocht Nua derives ultimately from the customs of the Celtic peoples, Celtic deity names are always welcome in ritual. Deities from other cultures may always be honored in one’s personal practice, but even in group ritual, if the opportunity to give honor to one’s personal patron or matron is offered, non-Celtic deities may be acknowledged (and it is expected that the other people assembled will respect this). However, Draíocht Nua is not a path for monotheistic practice and it honors the ways of our pre-Christian forebears, so individuals are respectfully asked to refrain from giving honor to objects of Christian veneration such as Jesus of Nazareth (or his mother, Mary) or the Abrahamic God, if regarded as the “one true” deity.

Above all, it is important to take to heart the words of the Founding Vision:

“The Fellowship is polytheistic: It is a community for those who have found importance in their lives for many gods or spirits.  Respectful disagreement about the ultimate nature of the deities is welcome in the activities of the Fellowship, but not the assertion that one God or Goddess is superior to all others and must be recognized as such by all…

“The Fellowship advocates for the most inclusive and least dogmatic expression of its core values.  The Fellowship esteems shared values and practices above rigid definitions and explanations of metaphysical matters.  The Fellowship rejects the establishment of definitive accounts of such matters of individual faith as the origin and fate of the cosmos; the independent nature of the deities, spirits, and otherworldly realms; and the existence and nature of an afterlife.  The Fellowship trusts in its members to contemplate such matters in a meaningful way and to reject the temptation to use them as a means of division.”

Todd Covert – June 2006