Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What is Oligotheism?

I am currently reading A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism*, and plan to write a review about it when I am done. Until then, everyone will just have to enjoy this post instead. So I was reading a portion of it last night, while sipping some hot tea, and ran across a new theism; sorta. By new I mean that it is new in that I now have a word for a concept I am already familiar with, and am sure many others are as well. Up until now if I wanted to talk about this particular theistic worldview, I would have to use a similar word and add a qualifier.

Interestingly enough, although the author has footnotes throughout the entire book, but nothing in that part and the word is only mentioned once. So I did what anyone would do, I turned to google, nothing more than the basic definition given in the book.

Without further delay, allow me to introduce you to oligotheism. Oligotheism meet whoever is reading this. Alright, what exactly does that mean you ask? It is a form of polytheism whereby the individual holds a belief in many Deities but only worships a few of them. Yep, almost like henotheism, only not.

Henotheism is the worship of one Deity while accepting that there are, or that there is the possibility of, there being multiple Deities. Oligotheism takes that just a step further, by not only accepting multiple Deities but worshipping several of them, and for whatever reason, still believing in, but not worshipping, other Gods and Goddesses.

As the book by Greer, is my only peer-reviewed, or at least I believe it to be peer-reviewed, reference, here is a very short quotation concerning the topic at hand.

“It’s also worth noting that, while henotheism is always an option to the devout Pagan, it’s not the only option. More common is what might be called “oligotheism,” belief in many gods combined with actual worship of a few. To monotheists, this may seem unbearably complicated, although Catholic and Orthodox Christians used to dealing with the crowded calendar of saints may find that it has familiar aspects. Historical evidence makes it clear that this was in fact the way that many ancient polytheists related to the gods, however, and contemporary experience shows that it is not only possible but intellectually and emotionally satisfying as an option today.”

I find this terribly exciting. Not because I subscribe to this theism or the like. Personally, I see the inherent truth in many forms of theism, don’t worry too much about them, and go on with my devotional relationships between me and my Gods and Goddesses. I find this exciting for the same reason that I find monism or pantheism or animism or any other theism exciting, I am a religious studies geek. There you have it; I read and analyze scholarly works on religion for the pure thrill of it, and let there be no doubt that it is thrilling.

I find the concept of oligotheism to be particularly interesting because like in traditional polytheism, the actual nature of the Gods and Goddesses is left up to the individual to discern. All that I have found on it say it is the belief in many but the worship of a few. It in no way breaks down whether any of those Deities are in fact an aspect of one, as monists or pantheists might suggest, or if they are aspects of a particular one, henotheism, or even if they are distinct and separate as some polytheists would argue. Furthermore, I believe that duotheism, the belief and worship of two Deities, would fall well within the sphere of oligotheism.

When I think about it from this point of view, I can safely say that I know and have known many oligotheists within Contemprary Paganism.

There you have it, “oligotheism,” or at least my interpretation of it. Feel free to add your thoughts to this conversation, as I am deeply interested in various points of view on this, and frankly almost any topic of theism.

Boidh se!

-Spanish Moss

"Lost in a thicket bare-footed upon a thorned path."

*Greer, J. M. (2005). A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism. Tucson, Arizona. ADF Publishing.


GreenFlame said...

Yep, I'm an oligotheist for sure, along with being several other kinds of -theist and just plain -ist.

Any book by Greer has got to be a good book.

Lee Shawnus said...

Thanks, i learned a new word today! Sometimes for me "worshiping the gods" is more like treating friends like royalty when they come over. Here are some links you may like:

Lee Shawnus said...

Thanks, i learned a new word today! Sometimes for me "worshiping the gods" is more like treating friends like royalty when they come over. Here are some links you may like: