Is Heathenism Polytheistic -- or Atheistic?
On first examination, heathenism is polytheistic, for there are obviously a multiplicity of gods. But does a "theism" have to do with the modality and nature of deity, or the modality and nature of worship?
Mainstream Xianity emerges out of a theistic setting of shibbolethry, of bowing down before divinity in a submissive posture in which will is evacuated. The ancient heathen word "worship" has come to be equated with this shibbolethry.From this theistic stance of imagination, polytheism sounds like multiple shibbolethry.
The ancient Gnostics, who shall be our allies in this analysis, critiqued this approach to worship and assessed that only Archons desire or demand shibbolethry. "Archons" was their word for what might be called variously "demons", "jotnar", etc. : unwhole entities not intent on tending the good who seek enlargement of their unwholeness. "Archons" specifically meant "ruler", and the implication was that entities who were tyrants sought out submissives to worship them. Gnostics defiantly and boldly rejected this notion of approach to deity. To them, shibbolethry to even one was far too much.
If we, for the moment, define this kind of shibbolethry as "theism", and then wish to find a word which describes shibbolethry to none, the appropriate prefix to place before "theism" will not be "poly", but the prefix "a-", which is a negating prefix meaning "none".
It turns out that this approach is in large agreement with the ancient heathen perspective. The original meaning of "worship" was worth-ship, which meant showing honor to the gods, and growing in worth --- ie., developing ourselves to our full capacities --- in order to honor the gifts they have bestowed upon us, and to be able to more fully honor them. Worship is about honoring, with full will, and not evacuating our will in order to present ourselves submissively before the gods.
From this standpoint, heathenism is "atheistic", even though it involves honoring multiple gods. But it is, simply, and to borrow the terminology of our Gnostic allies, to recognize that our gods are not archons. Thus, either "polytheism" or "atheism" are inadequate from their various standpoints of expressing this deeper, indigenous perspective. From the perspective of Midgard, the gods are personifications of forces that are felt and experienced as very real, whose ultimate sources we seek to enter into partnership with, and to honor, for the betterment of the world itself, for such contracts tend the good in all things.
The modern Xian notion of "worship" simply doesn't touch what we are reaching for and what we are trying to articulate. It is a completely different language. Its theistic concepts do not apply. The more heathen we become, the less theistic we get, and the more heathen we become. Our thews of weorthscip live within us and become a part of our blood and bones. We breathe and live it. We make it a part of our lives, and realize it through this.