One phrase that keeps popping up in my reading lately is the term Hard Polytheist, referring to individuals who believe that each God is absolutely separate and distinct, not different representations of the same archetypes cross-culturally. The phrase and the whole idea bug me, partly because I don’t like it implied that I’m soft-anything and partly because it’s expressed with such dogmatic certainty every time. So I’d like to throw in my two cents on the issue and see if I can complicate things enough to raise some doubts for a few people.
Assuming the Gods really exist (and they do), we’re talking about beings that are extremely long lived, possibly immortal. They are known shape-shifters, sex-shifters, liars and users of multiple aliases. They are shown in the myths to grow, evolve, incarnate, die and reincarnate. I also wouldn’t put it past some of these guys to be in more than one place at a time. Take all that into account and it becomes pretty damn hard to say with any certainty that Odin is not now, nor has he ever been, another guise of Shiva or of Dionysus, or they guises of Him.
It certainly makes more sense to me to believe that the Gods have historically gone by different names when they’ve traveled to foreign kingdoms, rather than that the Gods have always restricted themselves to working exclusively within defined geographical areas and with specific, distinct racial groups.
I would also like to point out that Polytheistic Syncretism was an extremely common theory among the Romans and still is current in Hinduism today. Many Hindus even recognize both Jesus and the Buddha as avatars of Vishnu. This so-called “Soft” Polytheist view is definitely a historically valid part of the Indo-European Tradition.
As for the assertion “the Gods are not just archetypes”. What do you mean “just”? Archetypes are extremely important. Ideas are extremely important. An idea can make or break not just lives, but entire civilizations. It’s not for nothing they say the pen is mightier than the sword. So even if the Gods did exist just inside our heads they would still be potentially more powerful than any one human being alive.
So, are all of the Gods distinct individual entities? They are and they aren’t. Do they exist in objective reality, or just inside our heads? Both. How is this possible? I don’t know, man. I didn’t do it.
Hail Chaos! Viva Loki! Aum Wotan!