This is another part of my Personal Brythonic Relationships series and builds upon my Relationship with Landscape piece.
Relationship with Polytheism.
We have many examples of the belief’s of earlier generations in the British isles. For the majority of that history, it clear from the archaeological evidence that there was a common belief in the existence of multiple deities. Inscriptions can give us clues as to the identity of those deities, although the inscriptions are sometimes the interpretations of non-native occupying forces translated into a form that may not accurately represent the true meaning from the original language.
The nature of this polytheistic relationship, I suspect, would be one of a practical nature involving the invoking of various deities to favour the outcomes of everyday living. For peoples whose circumstances meant that a large part of the outcomes of everyday living lay outside their own spheres of influence, one of the means by which lay a possible avenue to influence these events would have been a “working” knowledge of the various deities associated with their localities.
Because we know that literacy was not generally present amongst the indigenous populations, this knowledge would have taken the form of an oral tradition. To the local populations, this oral tradition may have presented some perceived advantages over the non-native written traditions.
Through the myriad of local traditions present throughout the tribal societies for the majority of prehistory in Britain, the idea of committing specific information (power) to the written form may have represented anathema.
Therefore, oral traditions probably offered the most practical method of knowledge, handed down from generation to generation. Of course that may have meant that the power of these deities could have been kept with the local populations, as the identity and attributes of these deities would not have been committed to a medium resulting in the potential for other populations gaining access to these localized deities. With the natural evolving of language over time, the identities of those deities were kept “current” with continual usage, as opposed to remaining static on a medium. This idea of repressing deity by means of a physical medium may also possibly have been viewed as having a restricting action upon those deities influence and interactions. This oral tradition may also have been perceived as returning some part of the interacting persons life force back to those deities by means of active participation through living communication. Therefore, interactions with deities would have been actualized by constant interactions, a more dynamic relationship based upon everyday activities.
Some of these deities may have taken the shape of what we may now consider to be localized spirits, for example, local to rivers or valleys. As such, it is probable that their identity may never be known again, and that certainly applies to those from pre-Christian societies. One suspects that it is possible that their identities may have actually have been known up to comparatively recent times.
The adoption of a monotheistic culture in later times suggests that the relationship between people and their deities broke down. The new religion would appear to have held out the prospect of better living conditions and possibly, for the first time, a common framework usable by large sections of the population under common terms of reference (even if some of these may have been applied under duress to some localized populations).
It is possible that the goal being offered by the new religion, as opposed to being just a localized outcome for the person invoking, represented a larger long term goal (plus of course, the materialistic advantages of working for the new religion, possibly the most influential player around at the time). The goal would be larger because the perceived sphere of influence would be proportionally larger, as opposed to the localized sphere of influence evidenced by the earlier tribal societies.
So the new religion’s aspired outcome influenced the local populations by the scale of the perceived goal. Why would you work for the benefit of a localized deity, for whom the sphere of influence was proportional to the area, when you could work for a deity whose influence was said to permeate the whole of the earth and the rewards would therefore be proportionally greater?
And so we witness the influence of a materialistic goal oriented reward system upon a general population. To some, this still represents a preferable route, giving direction to the actions of the many, with a perceived benefit to the majority choosing to live their lives through the teachings and directions of the framework of the controlling religion.
However, if we accept the premise suggested in the previous section about the effects of interactions upon the landscape and the possibility of these interactions actually taking on some form of physicality, one reaches the inescapable conclusion that interactions made in the locality of sites important to the controlling religion must also have contributed some layers to that same locality. It must represent some part of the signature of the environment.
In some areas, such as designated buildings of worship, it may represent the majority of that localities signature. In others it may have no, or minimal, influence. The positioning of some of those buildings, directly upon the sites of earlier generation’s places of reverence, suggest a directed intention to alter the focus of these localized areas to the benefit of the emerging controlling religion. So, although the assertions were that there was but one controlling deity, the actions suggest implied recognition of the influence of other external entities.
Explicit wording forbidding interaction with other deities / idols etc made in the writings of other religions, back up the implied recognition. The only question remaining would appear to be whether the individual accepts the existence of external, as yet unquantified, independent entities. To a large extent, this is probably dependent upon the subjective experiences of the individual at this moment in time.
If one does accept the potential existence of these external entities, through direct or indirect experiences, how could the nature of that relationship be structured?
In earlier times under the influence of the monotheistic religions, the emphasis was based upon theological or divinatory interpretation. To a large extent, the majority of the followers were expected to follow the decrees of those in a position of authority. This was not different from the earlier generations and earlier religions as such, but the difference now was that the actions of the individual were structured more rigorously in larger numbers reflecting the larger aspirations of the religion.
One major difference however, was the size of the sphere of influence accredited to the mainly, localized deities of the earlier generations. This perceived localized sphere placed those same deities more on an equal footing with the inhabitants of the time, in terms of influence and qualities. The new religion’s deity was placed exclusively in a supernatural or other world context, outside of the local environment and therefore out of reach for the majority and as such, reflected the global aspirations of the new religion.
One may reasonably suspect that the nature of that earlier relationship was more of one that acknowledged the different qualities of any one deity without necessarily accrediting them with major supernatural qualities. For the newer religions, it was important that the goal on offer was proportionally larger, because of the accreditation of the one deity having control over all creation would place that deity in a position to grant reward on a larger scale than previously available.
Whereas it is not my intention to suggest that relationship with the land through the framework of Christianity or any other monotheistic religion cannot be achieved, it is my contention that the adoption of a polytheistic approach in the context of a Brythonic frame of reference, favouring a more localized connection, would be in keeping with the aspirations of the individual to explore relationship with the British landscape through a framework that may represent a form recognizable to previous generations.
With the advent of the culture of the individual in recent times, many now reject the “authority” of the major religions, preferring instead to cultivate a relationship in context more in keeping with modern structures of living. More people are now accepting the responsibility of creating their own frames of reference to use to cultivate their understanding of the realm of spirit.
For some, this is represented by a solitary path, which best provides them with the majority of their spiritual needs and also provides for them the method by which to experience the divine nature of existence.
For others however, the relationship may be enhanced by a joining of like minded individuals whose experiences may be similar, with enough common terms of reference to advance and enhance their continuing developing understanding of their shared terms of reference.
What has changed though, is the moving away from a subservient style of interaction, to one that requires more of an equal or even proactive basis from both parties. This implies recognition from spirit that the nature of the interaction is changing, or maybe humanity is creating a change in consciousness which is resulting in a change of context in the nature and method of these interactions.
One further impact is represented by the means of communication available through the medium of modern technology that now gives individuals access to a wider section of the global society with which to share perspectives. Earlier generations were more restricted by the physical limitations of their locality and the opportunity of discovering different perspectives was restricted by this physicality. The technological age has provided the means by which to explore shared terms of reference between people who may not share a common physical location.
Why then, could polytheism be seen as a preferable means by which to explore their potential spirituality? Well, personal experiences may demonstrate to them that the communication they experience as a result of their interactions with deity and / or landscape, emanates from more than one source. Of course, this is purely subjective at this time and relies upon the individual’s reasoning to qualify this position. But, if it is demonstrated to work, and the modern approach would place emphasis upon the analysis of results, it would then seem logical to adopt this framework.
It would also appear to be logical to suggest that by rigorously sourcing as much current information as is available at this time, backed up by the modern scientific areas of expertise that can give guidance to the probable accuracy of that information, we can strive to construct a working model in a modern context. This approach in following all available sources may help create a framework that would have it’s foundations built upon credible evidence, thus helping to construct a form that may be recognizable to earlier generations, enabling us to pay them proper respect and affording them the opportunity to further interact with us.