explaining polytheism to kids

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In this world dominated by monotheism, it can be difficult raising children in a polytheistic faith. Although you don’t want to dictate what your kids believe, it is reasonable to give polytheism a fair and equal representation so that your children can make a informed decision on what to believe.

When kids are young, they are more likely to believe what we believe, but soon mainstream school mates and playmates challenge those beliefs. So it becomes necessary to provide some logic and reasons for our ways. Here are some basic ideas that can uphold polytheistic belief:

nature is complex and diverse
Nature, life, the universe… is so amazing, intricate, and complex, it makes more sense that its creation was a team effort, rather than the masterpiece of one divine being. Metaphors and examples of the many creating something big and complex can be found in nature, as well as in humankind’s advances.

absolute power doesn’t exist
Monotheists commonly claim that their deity is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-good (omnibenevolent). However, if this were true, there would be no evil in the world, because such a god would not have allowed it. It wakes more sense that there is a group of deities that share power, and are not omni- anything, but are helpers to nature and humankind. Such deities may have different strengths, interests, and areas of influence.

many spirits, many gods
If one believes that the soul (and personality) survives the death of the body, then logic dictates the existence of spirits in some sort of spirit world (or transition state before reincarnating). If a multitude of spirits exists, why shouldn’t a multitude of deities exist as well? Perhaps some of the gods are old and wise ancestral spirits who have evolved over time.

Some of these ideas are simplistic, I admit, and not without fault. But they are compelling on certain levels, and meaningful to contemplate. Older children and teens may want more thorough arguments and would benefit from reading “A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism” by John Michael Greer.

One great tool from Greer’s book mentioned above is the “cat analogy”. From age four, most children can understand the use of metaphor in a story, so the cat analogy can be very useful in explaining the logic of polytheism compared to other types of belief. To summarize the story, there was once a village with five houses. A researcher decided to go door to door and ask the villagers about their beliefs…

At the first house, the villager believed in one great Cat (which he had seen once), and left kibble out for him. He believed that other households left out kibble for a “false cat” that didn’t exist and that hobos probably ate that kibble. (This villager was a “mono-felist”.)

At the second house, the villager believed in one Cat (which he had also seen once, but looked different from what the other villager described), and believed that other people were not only worshiping false cats that didn’t exist, but inadvertently worshiping lesser evil creatures… and that evil sewer rats probably ate that kibble. (This villager was a “mono-felist” as well, but with a more sinister view of other beliefs.)

At the third house, the villager believed in one great Cat as well, but believed that Cat may look different to different people (mainly because they didn’t get a good look at Cat). This villager also claimed to know how Cat really looks, and what kind of kibble he prefers. (This villager was an inclusive “mono-felist”.)

At the fourth house, the villager believed that all the other villagers were delusional, that there were no cats, but only figments of their imagination. (This villager was an “a-felist”.)

At the fifth house, out on the edge of the village, this villager acknowledged that there are many cats. She had seen them and fed them on many occasions. (This villager was a “poly-felist”.)

village

There is much more detail of the story in Greer’s book, plus much discussion of it. Some points you might like to discuss after telling the story: On what do the villagers base their beliefs? Which one is based most on observation and experience? Do any of the villagers’ views involve special pleading?

Some other ways to reinforce a Pagan mindset (if not the logic) in young children are:
~to read mythology (see my recommendations for Norse and Celtic mythology for children),
~to talk about your own relationship with the gods and spirits,
~point out the gods’ influence in nature and in our lives and give thanks,
~teach prayers, blessings, and devotionals, and
~sing songs about the deities. One helpful resource for this is The Heathen Songbook Online. I especially like “My Gods, Your Love” and “All the Gods Are Here With Us”.

explaining polytheism to kids

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One response »

  1. My niece’s mother is raising her as a Christian and my niece became curious about my Pagan beliefs. Due to the situation with her parents, I avoided explaining much until one day when she became very persistent. So, I explained different religions to her by drawing a pie chart. I showed her that the majority of the world believes in Buddhism, followed by many other polytheistic sects. She wasn’t very impressed by the tiny sliver of my pie that was left over for Christianity.

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