|Expulsion of heretics (c. 1415 illustration), British Library|
When it comes to Roman polytheism there is no person, or even groups of persons, who can simultaneously cast you out of their organisation and deny divine goodwill towards you. No human organisation can speak for the Gods. The Gods favour who they will – it is not for men to decide. Even Pagan priests or priestesses cannot speak for the Gods. In any case, in Roman polytheism we are all, if we maintain a shrine and make offerings at it, priests and priestesses of the deities we honour. By this means we may come to understand the Gods we revere with a greater degree of insight, but only hubris could induce us into thinking we, of our own volition, can speak for them – the only possible exception being when efficacious divination occurs, or omens are perceived, but even in this case we merely interpret signs from the Gods.
|Venus (c. 1406), Bibliothèque nationale de France|
“The cavern had been hewn into the wild mountain in heathen times … They used to hide inside it when, desiring to make love, they needed privacy. Wherever such a cavern was found it was barred by a door of bronze, and bore an inscription to love …‘The Cave of Lovers.’
The name was well suited to the thing … the grotto was round, broad, high, and perpendicular … on the keystone there was a crown … encrusted with precious stones … the pavement was of smooth, rich, shining marble … At the centre there was a bed … and engraved along its sides with letters, announcing that the bed was dedicated to the Goddess of love [Gottfried Von Strassburg, Tristan and Isolde].”
Then there is the famous love between Lancelot and Guinevere – their romanticised adultery challenging the Christian ideal of sexlessness and, where this was not possible, monogamous life-long marriage. All of this, this hugely popular phenomenon which came to profoundly influence contemporary Western attitudes to love, was inspired by the man who inspired my own attraction to Roman polytheism – Ovid, one of the most influential writers of all time:
“Me Venus artificem tenero praefecit Amori / Venus appointed me to [teach the ways of] love [Ovid, The Art of Love].”
The relative lack of religious organisation in contemporary Roman polytheism is both a weakness and a strength – the most obvious strength being that no man or organisation can claim its ownership and thereby potentially defile it with human arrogance and intolerance.
“This is particularly relevant when thinking for example about the agony of the major monotheistic religions … often resulting in a blind and violent fanaticism which highlights their inability to accept … plurality …
… polytheism [is a spiritual perspective which] results from a multifaceted perception of reality, Nature, the Universe.
It is important to note that polytheism is based on the idea of ‘different’ and ‘multiple’ [lases.blogspot.com].”
The plurality inherent in the polytheistic world view means that accepting just one organisation’s view of reality as the only legitimate vision becomes incongruous.
“There’s one word that goes straight to the core of polytheism and that’s diversity! Not just of deities, but also of beliefs, ritual and devotional practices, symbols, festive calendars and even ethical principles. It comes with having many Gods with different functions or areas of interest, which means They will have Their own agendas … there’s a greater degree of tolerance that comes naturally to a religion that does not claim the monopoly of the divine to one God and accepts diversity as a basic element [goldentrail.wordpress.com].”
All this is not to say that Roman polytheists should avoid organising themselves into an established communities – what a hypocrite I would be if I advocated that! Clearly religious organisation has benefits, the main one perhaps being that it is an affirmation of the very existence of a particular religious path, which then makes it more visible and available to others who are attracted to it. Nova Roma, though imperfect, was a gateway to Roman polytheism for me, the people of the Cultus Deorum have inspired and educated me countless times. I have nothing but respect for the movement that calls itself Roman Revivalist Paganism. I am thankful for the existence of all these organisations – long may they continue. I merely point out that religious organisations are man made and so vulnerable to all that goes with that.