There is No Pantheon

At least, not one that has to matter to us in this endeavor.

The word “Pantheon” comes to us from the Greek language, imported into Rome and used to name a beautiful temple that is standing to this day (albeit Christianized), the “Temple of All the Gods“. It became part of the English language and came to be used to refer to all the Gods of a particular group or place (among other uses, but you can look those up in the dictionary if you want).

Thus we have not only the Greek Pantheon, but the Norse Pantheon, the Irish Pantheon, the Shinto Pantheon … I could go on. For popular mythology, this works great — discrete groups of deities clearly associated with one culture, who are characters in a unified body of stories that fit well into book or movie form. Once you scratch the surface, though, that idea starts to break down. Certain gods were part of more than one group, or worshiped by different cultures, or ‘became’ something different while still sharing a name… Myths can have multiple different forms even within the same time period, some different enough that they can’t be reconciled into one story.

Now that modern polytheism is starting to gain some traction, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people who feel as if they must choose “one pantheon”: they must be a Norse heathen who worships only the Norse Pantheon, or a Hellene who worships only the Olympians.

Now, there are many people who feel driven to reconstruct or revive the practices of a very particular culture from a very particular place and time. I think that’s fascinating and a really admirable goal, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never been good at it (or driven to do it), myself.

The Gods are not static, and they didn’t stay in one place, even in the ancient world. Classical history is full of cultures borrowing and learning from one another, or syncretizing deities between two meeting groups.

I’m not saying to just take whatever you want with no regard, of course (one of these days I’ll write a piece on appropriation to try and clear some of that up) But I want to make clear that strict, walled-off pantheons never existed to our ancestors (other than that literal building, The Pantheon, which I presume had at least three walls). The Germanic tribes and the Celtic tribes especially had a lot of overlap in the middle, even though we think of them as being very different today, and you can also look at the practices of ancient Rome and how they both brought their gods with them and took a few home.

So, if you’re reading this and have been concerned about the idea that once you choose a Pantheon of Gods, you will be limited — don’t worry. Heathenry is more about having the right mindset, and worldview, and building the right practices, than it is about being tight with a very specific group of Gods.

 

Funny enough, a friend posted a very related piece last evening, though you might find the writing style more dense. He adds citations to his writing, though, so it’s 300% more useful than my opinions and I highly recommend a read.

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