Hutton and Duotheism

Dec 9, 2006
I rather thought that once I finished Hutton's Triumph of the Moon I'd be able to write a review post about it, but I've been trying and it turns out there are just too many things I want to say about it. So. One thing at a time --

One of my favorite things -- well, two, technically -- were the chapters entitled "Finding a Goddess" and "Finding a God," in which Hutton describes how a religion claiming to be a direct continuation of pre-Christian polytheistic religion came to be duotheistic itself. I admit, having never worked in a formal tradition myself, I never really thought of Paganism as being duotheistic. I guess I tended to see all the references to a single Goddess and God as an unfortunate shorthand of the way different pantheons sometimes get squished together in the search for the deity most suited to this week's magic spell. But then, I came to Paganism through a love of mythology, and I was always enthralled by the idea of an entire pantheon of gods to get to know.

Hutton does a brilliantly detailed job of knitting together the history of literature, anthropology, religion, and history itself to explain how the Victorians came up with the idea of a worldwide, pre-Christian Goddess culture -- it was, after all, the predominant popular and academic view of ancient religions for quite a long time. Hutton explains the development of this theory in terms of romanticism and over-generalization, based on things like the Venus figurines and ideas that people like James Frazier had about the importance of fertility to early religions.

In my History of Anthropology course, we took a cultural-religious perspective on the same thing: the Garden of Eden myth was so firmly entrenched in the cultural subconscious that it was generally assumed that degeneration was the only way most cultures changed, and since monotheism was seen as the highest, most philosophically sound form of religion, it was decided that all observable polytheisms must have degenerated from an early monotheism that was, nonetheless, inferior to Christianity: a Goddess-centered religion. It was, of course, all these factors and more that contributed to the Goddess-culture mythos, which was actually still a reasonably popular idea in the culture when Gardner pulled it out of its theoretical setting and made it a practice.

The distillation of a Pagan God, as Hutton describes it, is something I know less about -- he finds the process mostly in literature, as the Romantics appropriated Pan as their particular patron. (Of course, Romanticism has a cultural component, too -- massive industrialization made the idealization of a rustic country life much easier, and closer to Gardner's time, the effect of the Blitz on London probably contributed significantly to the idea of the countryside as a place where nothing ever changes.)

Like I said, I never particularly thought of Paganism as duotheistic, but Hutton makes it pretty obvious that duotheism is one of the primary characteristics of Wicca, and almost all forms of modern Paganism owe at least a little something to Wicca. And also like I said, duotheism has never really done it for me. I find this culture's love of binaries a little annoying, really -- and while Wicca gains a few points over Christianity for placing the binary of Goddess and God at the center instead of the binary of Good and Evil, it's still nowhere as interesting as having a multitude.

Which means that now I've identified this niggling problem I have, I now feel obliged to fiddle with my carefully-constructed eclecticism again, throw a couple more ropes around the wobbly bits, and see if I can find another solid place to nail some bits on. (Tangentially, have y'all seen Howl's Moving Castle? I only just did, and Howl's castle is a brilliant visual metaphor for my religion. If only I could find a way to incorporate hydraulics --) Because there are a lot of lovely Wiccan rituals that I quite like and have been using for quite some time. Full moon rituals are easy to change from the generic to the specific, but what about the Charge of the Goddess? Do I have to abandon the entire idea of drawing down the moon? What about initiation rituals -- addressing only my patroness seems excessively specific there, but how to generalize within a pantheon?

I appear to have some fairly significant rewriting to do. Fortunately I have never been one of those people who has a problem with paradox, so I suppose it's entirely possible I'll continue using duotheistic Wiccan rituals because they are beautiful and they are a part of a common culture I do want to belong to. I have, after all, been trying to squish a polytheistic worldview into them for several years, while I didn't understand why it didn't quite fit. Who knows, maybe now that I understand what the problem is I'll be able to make it work. Or eventually I'll accept that Paganism is even bigger than I thought it was, that even paradoxical eclecticism can only stretch so far, and I'll have to give them up. Still, it's nice to finally know what the problem was.


Jeff Lilly said...

This is a fascinating post. I wonder (wonder in the sense of questioning, and in the sense of awe) at the extent to which Wicca and Voodoo are similar, in that they both drew/draw on a multitude of faiths to create a new tradition. In the case of Wicca, the situation seems to be somewhat less "organic", in that the donor faiths were filtered and merged via a central worldview (the Gardnerian), while Voodoo grew in a manner much more like accretion: gods, goddesses, and spirits were simply brought into the tradition and merged or not, depending on the whims of history and society.

It may be that you can work the process in reverse, and make your personal paganism more "organic". Could you find a set of original traditions (Celtic, Norse, Greek, etc.) that appeal to you, and when you, say, draw down the moon, call upon the specific Goddesses of those traditions (or maybe one Goddess that seems especially appropriate) instead of their merged identity?

Jenavira said...

Thank you -- I strive to be interesting. ;) You're right, there's definitely a difference between an organic and a constructed synthesis; I wonder if eclectic practitioners really get around that difference. I kind of think they might, but only because I know my brain puts things together in strange ways I don't intend it to. I could be missing something.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the term 'Duotheism' was less than useful.

When is the Goddess not a Goddess? When shes a God!

Strictly speaking Duotheism is the belief in two 'Gods', not the belief in a God and Goddess, thats still monotheism: mono = one + theos = 'God'.