I just finished reading a deceptively short book – deceptive because despite its length (well under 100 pages), its ideas are an important contribution to polytheistic religion.
"The Love of Destiny" by Dan McCoy draws on the mythology of the Icelandic sagas to illustrate animism – the view of the world as infused with sacredness, contrasted with the monotheistic concept of the world as profane, separated from the divine. While the book is not specifically about animism, this pervasiveness of the sacred in the natural realm reflects that philosophy.
In McCoy's definition, "monotheism" and "polytheism" are less about the number of gods, more about the perception of the physical universe. In a few pages he ably sets up these definitions, describes the dominant monotheistic groups (including modern science) and contrasts them to polytheism and, more importantly, the understanding of the divine that undergirds polytheism. As McCoy sees it, monotheism, envisioning the divine as something apart from the material universe, lends itself to binary division: sacred/profane, good/evil.
Polytheism, envisioning the divine as infused throughout the material universe, is not prone to such divisions. Morality is polyvalent. As an example, he retells the Icelandic myth of the Nordic god Tyr, normally as upright and honorable as they come, swearing a false oath for the purpose of binding the wolf Fenrir. While the oathbreaking was a dishonorable act by Germanic ethical standards, binding Fenrir was the greater good. This is an example of the "plurality of norms" that McCoy contrasts to the monotheist's "objective moral standard." In a polytheistic universe, indeed, one god's moral standards may differ from another's, yet this is not a contradiction.
The challenge for modern polytheists is to try to shake 2,000 years of monotheistic dominance and return to this earlier perspective. A "mere multiplication of the number of deities," as McCoy puts it, is only part of the difference.
McCoy is hardly the first contemporary writer to embrace and seek to describe animism. Emma Restall Orr's work is well-known, and McCoy's bibliography lists several other authors and works on the topic. What he adds uniquely is his tie-in to a specific cultural mythos to connect the dots. In the Germanic understanding of existence, time is cyclical. The story begins with the emergence of the universe from Ginnungagap, aided by Odin, Vili and Ve and the death of the giant Ymir. It ends with Ragnarok, and then begins again.
The final section of the book expands on this concept, suggesting a correspondence between the web of wyrd (destiny) and the web of nature, interdependence and interconnectedness integral to each.
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