In Defense of Syncretism

Throughout my time being active in the various pagan communities online I’ve been noticing an odd and frankly puzzling trend. I’m talking about the exhausting tendency of many modern pagans to dismiss syncretism out of hand. This despite the fact that that many such syncretisms have historical precedence.

As a Kemetic I’ve found myself more and more intrigued by the historical associations made by the ancient Greeks between their gods and those of the Egyptians during the Ptolemaic Period. For example, the Greeks believed that the Egyptian god Amun was the same as their god Zeus. They also associated Bast with Artemis, Min with Pan, Hethert with Aphrodite and so on. Frankly the Greeks had a long history of doing this kind of thing from what I’ve seen.

There were also historical instances of people believing many of the Greek and Roman gods to be one and the same. Whether people believed certain deities to be the same or different has always varied by time period and individual. Obviously a person is under no obligation to practice any form of syncretism but shooting down someone who does is disrespectful and shortsighted.

I remember many years ago when I was still new to Paganism I stumbled upon a post someone wrote concerning the identification of Artemis and Bast. The article was so full of righteous indignation that it will probably stick in my mind for years more to come. The author bemoaned “inexperienced new pagans” “confusing these goddesses together”. They ranted about how frustrated they were and that they “knew” the two were different.

I remember being struck by the strange defensiveness of the post. Surely a person confident in their relationship with a deity would not feel so threatened by someone else’s beliefs? Especially since those beliefs are also rooted in ancient practices?

The truth is that beliefs regarding the nature of the gods varied extensively throughout historical eras and geographical locations. We need to remember to be open minded when coming into contact with pagans whose beliefs and ideas are different from ours. Instead of immediately jumping to the conclusion that the other person is wrong and/or ignorant why don’t we instead try to see their point of view?

I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about empathizing with people who warp pagan beliefs to justify their bigotry and hate. Screw those people. They should never be welcome in these communities.

Now to the question of what I believe regarding syncretism:

I do believe in some syncretism within my personal practice. I’ve found myself increasingly interested in the fusion of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian pantheons mentioned at the beginning of the post.

I do believe some Greek and Roman gods are the same, though this statement does not extend to all of the gods as there are definitely deities unique to one pantheon or another (and some adapted from other pantheons altogether)! As far as the Egyptian gods go: They have a long history of merging together to create composite or synced gods while also preserving the individuality of the deities involved. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for this to be extended to Their experiences with different pantheons. We even have examples of this happening in the form of Hermanubis, a composite Hermes-Anubis deity.

My point with this article is not to demand every polytheist immediately adopt syncretistic beliefs. Your beliefs are your own. Instead I’m pointing out that these beliefs are not new and every bit as valid to those who hold them.

©Terra Akhert 2019

 

One comment

  1. Tahni J. Nikitins · October 28

    There are particular pantheons where syncretism makes a lot of sense, to the point that it seems quite ignorant to reject it off hand. The ones you point out in particular — there was so much cultural exchange in these regions, it would be odd for syncretism to *not* exist in some cases, to greater or lesser degrees.

    On one hand I can almost understand the knee-jerk reaction to reject it, though. Sometimes it does seem to happen more from a place of people not knowing how to engage with true polytheism because we live in such a monotheistic culture. It’s not always the case though — and like you said, even if someone disagrees with a particular example of syncretism, they can still do so respectfully.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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