There Are Simply Many Gods

Written by Dyami Millarson

Based on the nature of Germanic folk religion, the principle emerges that there are simply, naturally or totally many Gods. This is the only traditional Germanic principle on the quantity of Gods. If the multitude of Gods was the norm in Germanic religion, how could it be successfully propagated across generations and among (neighbouring) foreign peoples? After all, might it not be harder to propagate a diversity of Gods than a single divinity, or doesn’t this make a difference? How easily transferable is this diversity?

Full appreciation of the entire diversity of the Germanic divine beings may take some time to cultivate, but it may not take longer than learning any only-one-deity religion. While Germanic folk religion is a totally-many-deities religion, the diversity of Gods is encoded in its very poetry. There is, in Germanic religion, no way to escape the poetical reality of divine diversity. Being exposed to merely a few lines of Germanic poetry will already make one aware that there are totally many Gods.

Growing aware that there are totally many Gods is not that hard, as one may assume. Monotheism holds no evolutionary advantage over polytheism in terms of simplicity or in terms of being more easily learned. It is really not that hard to acquaint oneself with the names of the Germanic Gods, and polytheism is by no means a maladaptive trait for any religion.

Germanic polytheism did manage to adapt to monotheist suppression, which is a testament to its resilience. Monotheism never completely won in Medieval Europe, nor did polytheism completely lose, the picture is rather more blurred as native European polytheistic culture and foreign Middle-Eastern monotheistic culture fused into a double-faced cultural synthesis with a foreign outer layer and a native inner layer.

The multitude of ghostly and devilish beings that medieval Europeans believed in may be seen as a major victory for polytheism under adverse circumstances, chiefly caused by a prevailing zeitgeist among elites that did not favour explicit polytheism. The survival of implicit polytheism did, however, render the idea of only one deity hollow – it was but an assertion and nothing more.

Affirmations do not change reality. Polytheism cannot be wished away. It is a strong cultural force rooted in people’s psyches, and therefore it is highly transferable. In other words, polytheism is adaptive and is by no means easy to kill. Medieval elites constantly feared a return of polytheism, perhaps a popular uprising with polytheistic tenets among the populace.

Instead, the end of the Middle Ages took a more piously monotheistic turn, yet soon an appreciation for the hidden polytheistic layer began to develop and an inevitable resurgence of old beliefs began. The Middle Ages may be characterised as a hypocritical period of self-denial; European cultures had to deny their polytheist self. However, as soon as Europe steered away from medieval dogmas, it became ever more socially acceptable to look honestly in the mirror and embrace the pagan past.

The renewed interest in this intrinsically European past prior to the advent of monotheism may be seen as the beginning of a new era of explicit polytheism. Times have irreversibly changed, the zeitgeist has turned more favourable towards polytheism. The thesis might be put forward that the resurgence of explicit polytheism was only a matter of time and betting against its inevitable return was supporting the wrong side of history.

The genie is out of the box. Renewed interest in polytheism in past ages following the Middle Ages has made European polytheism – including Germanic polytheism – ever more accessible, and irreversibly so. The lid could not be kept on polytheism, it was a spiritual force that was awaiting the right time to break out and retake its rightful historical place in the cultural scene of Europe. Polytheism has already started infiltrating the highest echelons of European culture since the end of the Middle Ages, and has been building up momentum in the last decades.

Where elites had desired to distance themselves from popular beliefs in the Middle Ages, the post-medieval elites had become ever more culturally integrated with the populace. The cultural tension between elite and populace as experienced during the Middle ages was ultimately untenable and held back societal potential. Tensions eased as integration continued during the ages that followed the Middle Ages and as the political influence of the Church elite dwindled as the “Popular Ages” started, which have been seeing a return to – and a yearning for – the pagan roots.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s