In the time that I’ve been exploring alternative spirituality, I’ve noticed a strong correlation between underground subcultures and polytheistic or otherwise alternative spirituality. Though this is unsurprising to people who have explored music and art scenes, I think we are getting to a point where these correlations are becoming embodied by cultural traditions among those who consider themselves polytheists, pagans or occultists more generally. A notable example of these cultural traditions are the ways that polytheists have come to adorn themselves and the way they adjust their appearance as a whole – including hair and clothing. This has become even more common as attitudes towards alternative subculture and spirituality are more relaxed than they were twenty years ago.
A lot of men – particularly those who enjoy Ancient Celtic and Germanic culture, have started growing longer, more traditional beards and have even started using beard rings. Women have been more likely to explore traditional braiding and hair decorations using cloth or ribbon are more common. For both men and women, body modification is a lot more commonplace – including religious tattoos and gauged piercings. Though it is worth mentioning that many of these practices have become popular among people who are not polytheistic, the influence of polytheistic or neopagan religions are definitely present. In the age of online retailers and homemade crafts, these sorts of pagan influences are even more evident than they were in years past.
It is certainly true that artists, musicians and creatives of all types have incorporated elements of ancient traditions for aesthetic reasons, as polytheistic or occult religions are becoming more normalized, there are more people who feel comfortable exploring them sincerely. Though shallowness is certainly not ideal, It is my belief that the aesthetic elements drawn from these older, polytheistic cultural sources can help to entice people to explore these spiritual practices genuinely. I also think that as more people raise their children in households with a broader appreciation of pagan revival religions, as it were, these kinds of visual indicators will be more commonly associated with polytheistic religiosity in the future. I think this is especially the case when more mature, careful and deliberate explorations of body modification are encouraged – instead of the kind of extreme examples that have defined it in the past. These kinds of mature explorations will be reinforced by a broader understanding of history and culture as a whole.
All this being said, there is still a persistent element within the behaviors and attitudes of people in modern society that undermines broader visibility and normalization of polytheists. Normies – particularly those who incorporate elements that resemble modern mysticore or cottagecore, as a few examples, taint the well with insincere aesthetic shallowness. There are also obnoxious people who can be best described as brosatru with no genuine interest in actual Germanic polytheism. Conversely there are black people who wear gaudy Egyptian jewelry and believe all sorts of inaccurate things for much of the same tribalistic, culturally myopic reasons as the aforementioned fake heathens. It is my belief, however, that there is a silver lining to faux paganism. It gives people who are actually sincere the opportunity to advocate and inform for genuine practice and the cultural values that the neopagan revival is meant to engender and embody in the modern era.
Those of us who sincerely believe in the gods should continue celebrating the wonderful and vibrant cultural motifs, symbols and modes of dress that our faith inspires in us. In time, the people who are insincere will fall away – just like the kinds of people who experiment with goth, punk or metal in their teens but rarely continue exploring it in adulthood. As well, it’s valuable for us to encourage people who are already into alternative subculture to genuinely explore the beliefs that their aesthetic choices are based on. Instead of getting upset with people who use our symbols in a new way, we should use that as an opportunity to expand their understanding.
Those of us who practice polytheistic traditions should know even more than people into alternative subculture what it’s like to feel isolated or misunderstood. We have a duty to set the right example – not just with how we practice our spirituality, but how we cultivate virtue in the world. This is how polytheism can grow and thrive in a culture which is still obsessed with a war between monotheism and atheism. By being more inviting, moderate, and fun loving, we can be far more appealing to people – of all ages and backgrounds, who want to explore the living wisdom of ancient, powerful gods and goddesses.