What is syncretism and how does it factor in the beliefs and practices of one who considers themselves a “Hard Polytheist”?
For myself, syncretism is both the blending of traditions, such as Hellenism and Heathenry (which in this case involves blending the practices of both religions into a person path, and/or the blending of the lore of the religions into a personal understanding), as well as the Blending of the Powers Themselves, as revealed by Them, to facilitate understanding of certain principles or aspects of Themselves in relation to a specific devotee.
Syncretism is a very personal affair, for both the devotees and Powers involved. In my own practice, there are very few instances of syncretism, but they are certainly there. For instance, I hold the belief of Apollon’s relation to Odin via His Mother, Leto, which would be an example of a personal understanding of Hellenic lore. I also often (but not always) see and honor Rhea-Cybele as a single Goddess, whose worship is attested to in ancient times. This ancient connection doesn’t make my understanding of Her any more valid, but it does illustrate that this phenomenon has been happening for a very long time and is nothing new to the Powers, or to us.
But, if I indulge in any form of syncretism, doesn’t that mean that my beliefs would more properly be described as “Soft Polytheist”? Well, no, actually. This is due to the fact that I really do believe the Gods are Individuals. The Powers I know, honor and work with have presented Themselves strongly as Individuals. And yet, Their presentation leaves room for the understanding of how They may present Themselves differently to others. As it has been shown and explained to me, syncretism is a matter of choice and desire.
The Gods may choose to unite in certain specific ways, and Their reasons for doing so are often varied. I will not pretend to know all of those reasons, but here are a few that have been revealed to me, over time, and in no particular order:
1.) The Deities in question have certain traits in common, and decide to further explore Their commonalities by uniting, within the understanding of one or more devotees.
2.) The Deities have a common goal, for which union is the most logical step in the facilitation of said goal.
3.) The Deities are curious about One Another, or about the nature of the Other’s worship.
4.) The Deities desire to consolidate Their power in one way or another, or among at least one intersection of Their worshipers.
5.) The Deities wish to reveal Mysteries which are better understood in concert with the powers/domain of other Deities.
6.) The Deities choose to share responsibility for certain events, or expressions of power, among Their devotees.
By these examples, and as I understand it, syncretic union happens because the Gods choose it, for Their own reasons. It is often an outgrowth of Their desire to better understand One Another, or to challenge stagnant belief structures while facilitating new understanding within Their worshipers.
I offer this explanation to you, dear readers, not as the only one, or the best one, but as my personal explanation that has come over years of practice, observation, and direct contact with Gods who were willing to offer Their insight, so that I might grow in my understanding of Them and Their ways. I’m sure many of you, if not all, will have your own explanations of this phenomenon, which I, and perhaps others, would love to hear. So please, feel free to offer them in the comments, if you wish to share. I get the feeling that learning new perspectives from one another was the main reason I was prompted to write this. And yes, Odin did the prompting. ;)