Quis dubitare, mi Lucili, potest quin deorum inmortalium munus sit quod vivimus, philosophiae quod bene vivimus? Itaque tanto plus huic nos debere quam dis quanto maius beneficium est bona vita quam vita pro certo haberetur, nisi ipsam philosophiam di tribuissent; cuius scientiam nulli dederunt, facultatem omnibus. Nam si hanc quoque bonum vulgare fecissent et prudentes nasceremur, sapientia quod in se optimum habet perdidisset, inter fortuita non esse. Nunc enim hoc in illa pretiosum atque magnificum est, quod non obvenit, quod illam sibi quisque debet, quod non ab alio petitur. Quid haberes quod in philosophia suspiceres si beneficiaria res esset? Huius opus unum est de divinis humanisque verum invenire; ab hac numquam recedit religio, pietas, iustitia et omnis alius comitatus virtutum consertarum et inter se cohaerentium. Haec docuit colere divina, humana diligere, et penes deos imperium esse, inter homines consortium.
Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy? Hence the idea that our debt to philosophy is greater than our debt to the gods, in proportion as a good life is more of a benefit than mere life, would be regarded as correct, were not philosophy itself a boon which the gods have bestowed upon us. They have given the knowledge thereof to none, but the faculty of acquiring it they have given to all. For if they had made philosophy also a general good, and if we were gifted with understanding at our birth, wisdom would have lost her best attribute – that she is not one of the gifts of fortune. For as it is, the precious and noble characteristic of wisdom is that she does not advance to meet us, that each man is indebted to himself for her, and that we do not seek her at the hands of others.
What would there be in philosophy worthy of your respect, if she were a thing that came by bounty? Her sole function is to discover the truth about things divine and things human. From her side religion never departs, nor duty, nor justice, nor any of the whole company of virtues which cling together in close-united fellowship. Philosophy has taught us to worship that which is divine, to love that which is human; she has told us that with the gods lies dominion, and among men, fellowship.
-Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium
Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful,
Zeus, the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law,
Hail! It is right for mortals to call upon you,
since from you we have our being, we whose lot it is to be god’s image,
we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth.
Accordingly, I will praise you with my hymn and ever sing of your might.
The whole universe, spinning around the earth,
goes wherever you lead it and is willingly guided by you.
So great is the servant which you hold in your invincible hands,
your eternal, two-edged, lightning-forked thunderbolt.
By its strokes all the works of nature came to be established,
and with it you guide the universal Word of Reason which moves through all creation,
mingling with the great sun and the small stars.
O god, without you nothing comes to be on earth,
neither in the region of the heavenly poles, nor in the sea,
except what evil men do in their folly.
But you know how to make extraordinary things suitable,
and how to bring order forth from chaos; and even that which is unlovely is lovely to you.
For thus you have joined all things, the good with the bad, into one,
so that the eternal Word of all came to be one.
This Word, however, evil mortals flee, poor wretches;
though they are desirous of good things for their possession,
they neither see nor listen to god’s universal Law;
and yet, if they obey it intelligently, they would have the good life.
But they are senselessly driven to one evil after another:
some are eager for fame, no matter how godlessly it is acquired;
others are set on making money without any orderly principles in their lives;
and others are bent on ease and on the pleasures and delights of the body.
They do these foolish things, time and again,
and are swept along, eagerly defeating all they really wish for.
O Zeus, giver of all, shrouded in dark clouds and holding the vivid bright lightning,
rescue men from painful ignorance.
Scatter that ignorance far from their hearts.
and deign to rule all things in justice.
so that, honored in this way, we may render honor to you in return,
and sing your deeds unceasingly, as befits mortals;
for there is no greater glory for men
or for gods than to justly praise the universal Word of Reason.
-Cleanthes, Hymn to Zeus
Dic potius quam naturale sit in immensum mentem suam extendere. Magna et generosa res est humanus animus; nullos sibi poni nisi communeset cum deo terminos patitur. Primum humilem non accipit patriam, Ephesum aut Alexandriam aut si quod est etiamnunc frequentius accolis laetiusvetectis solum: patria est illi quodcumque suprema et universa circuitu suocingit, hoc omne convexum intra quod iacent maria cum terris, intra quodaer humanis divina secernens etiam coniungit, in quo disposita tot numinain actus suos excubant. Deinde artam aetatem sibi dari non sinit:’omnes’ inquit ‘anni mei sunt; nullum saeculum magnis ingeniis clusum est,nullum non cogitationi pervium tempus. Cum venerit dies ille qui mixtumhoc divini humanique secernat, corpus hic ubi inveni relinquam, ipse mediis reddam. Nec nunc sine illis sum, sed gravi terrenoque detineor.’ Per has mortalis aevi moras illi meliori vitae longiorique proluditur.Quemadmodum decem mensibus tenet nos maternus uterus et praeparat non sibised illi loco in quem videmur emitti iam idonei spiritum trahere et inaperto durare, sic per hoc spatium quod ab infantia patet in senectutemin alium maturescimus partum. Alia origo nos expectat, alius rerum status. Nondum caelum nisi ex intervallo pati possumus. Proinde intrepidushoram illam decretoriam prospice: non est animo suprema, sed corpori. Quidquid circa te iacet rerum tamquam hospitalis loci sarcinas specta: transeundum est. Excutit redeuntem natura sicut intrantem. Non licet plus efferrequam intuleris, immo etiam ex eo quod ad vitam adtulisti pars magna ponendaest: detrahetur tibi haec circumiecta, novissimum velamentum tui, cutis; detrahetur caro et suffusus sanguis discurrensque per totum; detrahenturossa nervique, firmamenta fluidorum ac labentium….
Imaginare tecum quantus ille sit fulgor tot sideribus inter se lumen miscentibus. Nulla serenum umbra turbabit; aequaliter splendebit omne caeli latus: dieset nox aeris infimi vices sunt. Tunc in tenebris vixisse te dices cum totamlucem et totus aspexeris, quam nunc per angustissimas oculorum vias obscureintueris, et tamen admiraris illam iam procul: quid tibi videbitur divinalux cum illam suo loco videris?
Haec cogitatio nihil sordidum animosubsidere sinit, nihil humile, nihil crudele. Deos rerum omnium esse testesait; illis nos adprobari, illis in futurum parari iubet et aeternitatemproponere. Quam qui mente concepit nullos horret exercitus, non terreturtuba, nullis ad timorem minis agitur. Quidni non timeat qui mori sperat?
Tell me rather how closely in accord with nature it is to let one’s mind reach out into the boundless universe! The human soul is a great and noble thing; it permits of no limits except those which can be shared even by the gods. First of all, it does not consent to a lowly birthplace, like Ephesus or Alexandria, or any land that is even more thickly populated than these, and more richly spread with dwellings. The soul’s homeland is the whole space that encircles the height and breadth of the firmament, the whole rounded dome within which lie land and sea, within which the upper air that sunders the human from the divine also unites them, and where all the sentinel stars are taking their turn on duty. Again, the soul will not put up with a narrow span of existence. “All the years,” says the soul, “are mine; no epoch is closed to great minds; all Time is open for the progress of thought. When the day comes to separate the heavenly from its earthly blend, I shall leave the body here where I found it, and shall of my own volition betake myself to the gods. I am not apart from them now, but am merely detained in a heavy and earthly prison.” These delays of mortal existence are a prelude to the longer and better life. As the mother’s womb holds us for ten months, making us ready, not for the womb itself, but for the existence into which we seem to be sent forth when at last we are fitted to draw breath and live in the open; just so, throughout the years extending between infancy and old age, we are making ourselves ready for another birth. A different beginning, a different condition, await us. We cannot yet, except at rare intervals, endure the light of heaven; therefore, look forward without fearing to that appointed hour– the last hour of the body but not of the soul. Survey everything that lies about you, as if it were luggage in a guest-chamber: you must travel on. Nature strips you as bare at your departure as at your entrance. You may take away no more than you brought in; what is more, you must throw away the major portion of that which you brought with you into life: you will be stripped of the very skin which covers you – that which has been your last protection; you will be stripped of the flesh, and lose the blood which is suffuses and circulated through your body; you will be stripped of bones and sinews, the framework of these transitory and feeble parts….
Picture to yourself how great is the glow when all the stars mingle their fires; no shadows will disturb the clear sky. The whole expanse of heaven will shine evenly; for day and night are interchanged only in the lowest atmosphere. Then you will say that you have lived in darkness, after you have seen, in your perfect state, the perfect light – that light which now you behold darkly with vision that is cramped to the last degree. And yet, far off as it is, you already look upon it in wonder; what do you think the heavenly light will be when you have seen it in its proper sphere?
Such thoughts permit nothing mean to settle in the soul, nothing low, nothing cruel. They maintain that the gods are witnesses of everything. They order us to meet the gods’ approval, to prepare ourselves to join them at some future time, and to plan for immortality. He that has grasped this idea shrinks from no attacking army, is not terrified by the trumpet-blast, and is intimidated by no threats. How should it not be that a man feels no fear, if he looks forward to death?
-Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium
Πρὸς τοὺς ἐπιζητοῦντας˙ ποῦ γὰρ ἰδὼν τοὺς θεοὺς ἢ πόθεν κατειληφὼς ὅτι εἰσὶν οὕτω σέβεις; πρῶτον μὲν καὶ ὄψει ὁρατοί εἰσιν˙ ἔπειτα μέντοι οὐδὲ τὴν ψυχὴν τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ ἑώρακα καὶ ὅμως τιμῶ˙ οὕτως οὖν καὶ τοὺς θεούς, ἐξ ὧν τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτῶν ἑκάστοτε πειρῶμαι, ἐκ τούτων ὅτι τε εἰσὶ καταλαμβάνω καὶ αἰδοῦμαι.
To those who ask, “Where have you seen the gods, or what evidence do you have of their existence, that you worship them so devoutly?”, I reply first of all that they are in fact visible to our eyes, and secondly, that I have not seen my own soul, and yet I pay it due honour. So likewise with the gods; from what I experience of their power at every moment of my life, I ascertain that they exist and I pay them due reverence.
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Si tibi occurrerit vetustis arboribus et solitam altitudinem egressis frequens lucus et conspectum caeli ramorum aliorum alios protegentium summovens, illa proceritas silvae et secretum loci et admiratio umbrae in aperto tam densae atque continuae fidem tibi numinis faciet. Si quis specus saxis penitus exesis montem suspenderit, non manu factus, sed naturalibus causis in tantam laxitatem excavatus, animum tuum quadam religionis suspicione percutiet. Magnorum fluminum capita veneramur; subita ex abdito vasti amnis eruptio aras habet; coluntur aquarum calentium fontes, et stagna quaedam vel opacitas vel immensa altitudo sacravit.
If you have ever come on a dense wood of ancient trees that have risen to an exceptional height, shutting out all sight of the sky with one thick screen of branches upon another, the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, your sense of wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out of doors, will persuade you of the presence of a deity. Any cave in which the rocks have been eroded deep into the mountain resting on it, its hollowing out into a cavern of impressive extent not produced by the labours of men but the result of processes of nature, will strike into your soul some kind of inkling of the divine. We venerate the sources of important streams; places where a mighty river bursts suddenly from hiding are provided with altars; hot springs are objects of worship; the darkness or unfathomable depth of pools has made their waters sacred. – Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium
Quomodo sint dii colendi solet praecipi. Accendere aliquem lucernas sabbatis prohibeamus, quoniam nec lumine dii egent et ne homines quidem delectantur fuligine. Vetemus salutationibus matutinis fungi et foribus adsidere templorum: humana ambitio istis officiis capitur, deum colit qui novit. Vetemus lintea et strigiles Iovi ferre et speculum tenere Iunoni: non quaerit ministros deus. Quidni? ipse humano generi ministrat, ubique et omnibus praesto est. Audiat licet quem modum servare in sacrificiis debeat, quam procul resilire a molestis superstitionibus, numquam satis profectum erit nisi qualem debet deum mente conceperit, omnia habentem, omnia tribuentem, beneficum gratis. Quae causa est dis bene faciendi? natura. Errat si quis illos putat nocere nolle: non possunt. Nec accipere iniuriam queunt nec facere; laedere etenim laedique coniunctum est. Summa illa ac pulcherrima omnium natura quos periculo exemit ne periculosos quidem fecit. Primus est deorum cultus deos credere; deinde reddere illis maiestatem suam, reddere bonitatem sine qua nulla maiestas est; scire illos esse qui praesident mundo, qui universa vi sua temperant, qui humani generis tutelam gerunt interdum incuriosi singulorum. Hi nec dant malum nec habent; ceterum castigant quosdam et coercent et inrogant poenas et aliquando specie boni puniunt. Vis deos propitiare? bonus esto. Satis illos coluit quisquis imitatus est.
Precepts are commonly given as to how the gods should be worshipped. But let us forbid lamps to be lighted on the Sabbath, since the gods do not need light, neither do men take pleasure in soot. Let us forbid men to offer morning salutation and to throng the doors of temples; mortal ambitions are attracted by such ceremonies, but god is worshipped by those who truly know him. Let us forbid bringing towels and flesh-scrapers to Jupiter, and proffering mirrors to Juno; for god seeks no servants. Of course not; he himself does service to mankind, everywhere and to all he is at hand to help. Although a man hear what limit he should observe in sacrifice, and how far he should recoil from burdensome superstitions, he will never make sufficient progress until he has conceived a right idea of god, – regarding him as one who possesses all things, and allots all things, and bestows them without price. And what reason have the gods for doing deeds of kindness? It is their nature. One who thinks that they are unwilling to do harm, is wrong; they cannot do harm. They cannot receive or inflict injury; for doing harm is in the same category as suffering harm. The universal nature, all-glorious and all-beautiful, has rendered incapable of inflicting ill those whom it has removed from the danger of ill.
The first way to worship the gods is to believe in the gods; the next to acknowledge their majesty, to acknowledge their goodness without which there is no majesty. Also, to know that they are supreme commanders in the universe, controlling all things by their power and acting as guardians of the human race, even though they are sometimes unmindful of the individual. They neither give nor have evil but they do chasten and restrain certain persons and impose penalties, and sometimes punish by bestowing that which seems good outwardly. Would you win over the gods? Then be a good man. Whoever imitates them, is worshipping them sufficiently.
-Seneca, Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium
περὶ θεῶν οἱ μέν τινές εἰσιν οἱ λέγοντες μηδ᾽ εἶναι τὸ θεῖον, οἱ δ᾽ εἶναι μέν, ἀργὸν δὲ καὶ ἀμελὲς καὶ μὴ προνοεῖν μηδενός: τρίτοι δ᾽ οἱ καὶ εἶναι καὶ προνοεῖν, ἀλλὰ τῶν μεγάλων καὶ οὐρανίων, τῶν δὲ ἐπὶ γῆς μηδενός: τέταρτοι δ᾽ οἱ καὶ τῶν ἐπὶ γῆς καὶ τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων, εἰς κοινὸν δὲ μόνον καὶ οὐχὶ δὲ καὶ κατ᾽ ἰδίαν ἑκάστου: πέμπτοι δ᾽, ὧν ἦν καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς καὶ Σωκράτης, οἱ λέγοντες ὅτι οὐδέ σε λήθω κινύμενος. πολὺ πρότερον οὖν ἀναγκαῖόν ἐστι περὶ ἑκάστου τούτων ἐπεσκέφθαι, πότερα ὑγιῶς ἢ οὐχ ὑγιῶς λεγόμενόν ἐστιν. εἰ γὰρ μὴ εἰσὶν θεοί, πῶς ἐστι τέλος ἕπεσθαι θεοῖς; εἰ δ᾽ εἰσὶν μέν, μηδενὸς δ᾽ ἐπιμελούμενοι, καὶ οὕτως πῶς ὑγιὲς ἔσται; ἀλλὰ δὴ καὶ ὄντων καὶ ἐπιμελομένων εἰ μηδεμία διάδοσις εἰς ἀνθρώπους ἐστὶν ἐξ αὐτῶν καὶ νὴ Δία γε καὶ εἰς ἐμέ, πῶς ἔτι καὶ οὕτως ὑγιές ἐστιν; πάντα οὖν ταῦτα ὁ καλὸς καὶ ἀγαθὸς ἐπεσκεμμένος τὴν αὑτοῦ γνώμην ὑποτέταχεν τῷ διοικοῦντι τὰ ὅλα καθάπερ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ πολῖται τῷ νόμῳ τῆς πόλεως. ὁ δὲ παιδευόμενος ταύτην ὀφείλει τὴν ἐπιβολὴν ἔχων ἐλθεῖν ἐπὶ τὸ παιδεύεσθαι ‘πῶς ἂν ἑποίμην ἐγὼ ἐν παντὶ τοῖς θεοῖς καὶ πῶς ἂν εὐαρεστοίην τῇ θείᾳ διοικήσει καὶ πῶς ἂν γενοίμην ἐλεύθερος;’ ἐλεύθερος γάρ ἐστιν, ᾧ γίνεται πάντα κατὰ προαίρεσιν καὶ ὃν οὐδεὶς δύναται κωλῦσαι.
Concerning gods, some affirm that there is no deity; others that it exists, but is inactive, aloof, and takes no thought for anything; a third group says that it exists, and takes thought, but only for great and heavenly things, and not for anything at all on earth; a fourth that it takes thought for things on earth and human affairs, but only in a general manner, and takes no thought for individuals on their own account; and there is a fifth group, to which both Socrates and Odysseus belonged, who say, ‘Not a move do I make unseen by thee.’
It is, before all things, necessary to examine each of these claims, to see which is, and which is not, soundly stated. Now, if there are no gods, how can it be our end to follow them? If there are gods, but they take no care of anything, how will it be right, here again, to follow them? Or, if they both exist, and take care, yet there is no communication from them to men (and, indeed, by Zeus, to myself in particular) how can it be right even in this case? So a wise and good man, after examining these things, submits his mind to him who administers the universe, as good citizens submit to the laws of the state.
He, then, who comes to be instructed, ought to come with this intention: ‘How may I follow the gods in everything? How may I live in happiness under divine governance? And how may I become free?’ For he is free for whom all things happen in accordance with his choice, and whom no one can restrain. —Epictetus, Discourses
The University of Exeter is hosting its second annual international Stoic Week (Nov. 25-Dec. 1) this year, and, given that I’ve been reading a lot on the Stoics in recent months, I thought I’d do a series of posts on Stoicism. Most modern advocates for Stoicism seem to come at it from a secular or even atheistic perspective, which is fine as things go. In antiquity, Stoicism (and some other philosophical schools like the Cynics) was seen first and foremost as τέχνη περὶ τὸν βίον, a way, or art, of living one’s life with the goal of attaining ἀπάθεια, equanimity, regardless of what Fate hands you.
Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man, otherwise it would be admitting something that lies beyond its proper subject-matter. For as the material of the carpenter is wood, and that of statuary bronze, so the subject-matter of the art of living is each person’s own life. -Epictetus, Discourses
This would seem to be an ideal remedy to modern society that more and more regards one’s emotional excesses as a badge of pride rather than a thing to be pitied; watch nearly any ‘reality’ television show for the proof of that. We all suffer the same things in life: we experience the same passions, suffer disappointments, become ill, and we all die; for the Stoics, the true measure of one’s worth was not in how much we indulge those passions and bemoan illness and death, but how much we can face them with tranquility, indifference, and without complaint while cultivating virtue:
Difficulties are the things that show what men are. Henceforth, when some difficulty befalls you, remember that god, like a wrestling-master, has matched you with a rough young man.
For my own part, I admire the Stoics for much the same reasons as the secular proponents of Stoicism, but while my issues with it are similar to theirs, they are from a somewhat opposite perspective. As they are uncomfortable with the decidedly religious and theistic aspects of Stoicism in and of themselves, I am also uncomfortable with them because they differ from my own theology. As with monism, I remain agnostic about pantheism; I am first and foremost a polytheist and an animist. I also object to Stoicism’s absolute materialism and naturalism, its apparent anthropocentrism (see Epictetus’ Discourses 1.16).
On the other hand, I have to wonder to what degree polytheistic elements of Stoicism might be downplayed by its modern advocates, including in the academic world. In his introductory book on Stoicism, John Sellars suggests that Stoic references to ‘gods’ should be understood as a part of their ‘monotheistic theology’. Even if we were to concede that ‘gods’ refers to the typical Stoic pantheistic view of God being identical with Nature and the cosmos, I still think that monotheism is going a step too far. I find this especially amusing since Sellars says this in reference to a quote by Seneca, whom I personally have found to be the most polytheistically inclined of the Stoics. I also wonder, given how the Stoics freely use ‘god’ in the singular when talking about their pantheistic conception of Nature, if we can not take them at face value when they use ‘gods’ in the plural, i.e. that they might actually mean a multitude of divine beings. The belief that the whole cosmos is a conscious divine being does not preclude a belief that that cosmos is populated by a host of powerful beings that we humans call ‘gods’.
Atqui necesse est, cum sint di (si modo sunt, ut profecto sunt), animantis esse, nec solum animantes, sed etiam rationis compotes inter seque quasi civili conciliatione et societate coniunctos, unum mundum ut communem rem publicam atque urbem aliquam regentis. sequitur, ut eadem sit in is quae humano in genere ratio, eadem veritas utrobique sit eademque lex, quae est recti praeceptio pravique depulsio, ex quo intellegitur prudentiam quoque et mentem a deis ad homines pervenisse (ob eamque causam maiorum institutis Mens Fides Virtus Concordia consecratae et publice dedicatae sunt; quae qui convenit penes deos esse negare, cum eorum augusta et sancta simulacra veneremur: quod si inest in hominum genere mens fides virtus concordia, unde haec in terram nisi ab superis defluere potuerunt?), cumque sint in nobis consilium ratio prudentia, necesse est deos haec ipsa habere maiora, nec habere solum, sed etiam his uti in maxumis et optumis rebus. nihil autem nec maius nec melius mundo; necesse est ergo eum deorum consilio et providentia administrari.
Now since gods exist (given that they do, as is certainly the case), they must inevitably be alive; and not only alive, but also endowed with reason, and united with each other in what we may call civic harmony and fellowship, ruling the universe as a single unit, as if it were some shared state and city. From this it follows that they possess the same rational faculty as is possessed by the human race, that gods and men alike subscribe to the same truth and the same notion of law which recommends what is right and rejects what is wrong. What we gather from this is that both wisdom and intelligence have passed from the gods to human beings; this accounts for the fact that our ancestors established the custom of deifying and publicly enshrining as deities Mind, Faith, Virtue, and Concord; and since we venerate august and sacred statues of these, how can we decently deny them a place in the Pantheon? Now if intelligence and faith, virtue and concord exist in the human race, from where could these have emanated down to earth except from the gods above? Again, since we possess good counsel, reason, and wisdom, the gods must have these qualities in greater measure, and not merely possess them, but also employ them in the activities which are greatest and best. Now nothing is greater or better than the universe; so the universe must be ordered by the discernment and providence of the gods.
-Cicero, De Natura Deorum 
With all of this in mind, I figured that I would spend the week with posts focusing on what the Stoics had to say about the gods. So spend the week reading some Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius,
the Teachings of Surak; grow a beard if you are so capable; get in touch with your logical side; engage in some ἄσκησις τῆς ψυχῆς.
 John Sellars. Stoicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006) 132.
 While not a Stoic himself, per se, Cicero is here writing as the Stoic Quintus Lucilius Balbus in defense of Stoicism in book two of De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), which he begins thus:
Omnino dividunt nostri totam istam de dis inmortalibus quaestionem in partis quattuor. Primum docent esse deos, deinde quales sint, tum mundum ab his administrari, postremo consulere eos rebus humanis.
In general, our school divides this whole question of the immortal gods into four parts, teaching first, that gods exist; second, their nature; third, that they order the universe; and finally, that they have the interests of the human race at heart.
 For the ‘philosopher’s beard’, see: John Sellars. The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003.
…the Stoic philosopher Epictetus affirmed the philosopher’s beard as something almost sacred. This may be seen to express the idea that philosophy is no mere intellectual hobby but rather a way of life that, by definition, transforms every aspect of one’s behaviour, including one’s shaving habits. If someone continues to shave in order to look the part of a respectable Roman citizen, it is clear that they have not yet embraced philosophy conceived as a way of life and have not yet escaped the social customs of the majority. In the language of the Sophists, to shave is κατὰ νόμον while to sport a beard is κατὰ φύσιν. For Epictetus, the true philosopher will only act according to reason or according to nature, rejecting the arbitrary conventions that guide the behaviour of everyone else. (p. 17)
Genetz: “How many jumalas [=gods, saints] might there be?”
Woman: “I don’t know how many jumalas there are: Mikkula miilostivoi [St. Nicholas], Jyrgi [St. George], Sviizu, pyhä Nastassu [St. Anastasia], and valgeivalassi syöttäi [lit. White (St.) Blaise the provider].
Genetz: Isn’t there a God in heaven?
Woman: There is one, or two, or nine.
Genetz: Doesn’t God have a son Jesus Christ?
Woman: How should we know, us ignorant people! He is likely on God’s side.
Genetz: When you have some pain, doesn’t God in heaven help you?
Woman: They don’t know anything in heaven; this here icon helps [taking from the corner a small picture of St. Nicholas in bronze]. 
I’ve been reading through Laura Stark’s Peasants, Pilgrims, and Sacred Promises: Ritual and the Supernatural in Orthodox Karelian Folk Religion lately, and, even though I was already familiar with this fact, it never ceases to amaze me to what degree indigenous religious elements survived in Karelia and the superficiality of the imposition of Christianity on the region. While this isn’t Stark’s thesis in writing this book, it isn’t shy in being upfront about it.
To understand how this sort of thing continued in spite of church teachings, you have to first understand that pre-Modern European Christianity was very different than today’s Christianity. We take it for granted, at least in the West, that services are in the vernacular and there is near universal literacy. Such was not the case in the past.
The persistence of pre-Christian ethnic beliefs in 19th and early 20th century Orthodox Karelia is best explained by the region’s peripheral location, since neither government nor church authorities were able to monitor this remote region effectively. In addition, the liturgical language in most areas of Karelia was Church Slavonic until the late 19th century. Priests, many of whom spoke no Karelian and had only low-level education, might visit outlying villages only occasionally. In Archangel Karelia in particular, there were very few churches until the end of the 19th century. Statistics from 1865 show that in an area comprising approximately ten parishes, each containing dozens of villages each, only 5 churches existed. In addition to these were 27 village chapels or tsasounas in which services were held when traveling priests visited. Karelians also visited the tsasounas and conducted rites in the absence of priests as well, as described in the following recollected narrative:
There was nonetheless not a single literate person in the village and on Sunday when visiting the village chapel, people mumbled to themselves the prayers they learned from priests and monks and brought offerings of butter and wool. This was so that they would have good cattle-luck in the summer and that the cattle would thrive in other ways as well. 
Encounters between academics collecting folklore in the region, like the one from the late 1800s at the beginning of this post, frequently display how Karelians understood the world far more in terms of indigenous religion rather than official Church teaching or Biblical narrative:
Christianity’s influence on folk concepts in Karelia long remained superficial, producing merely outwardly habits. Fellman tells of having asked several elderly men in Vuokkiniemi what they believed concerning the creation of the world, and of receiving the answer: “Kah, holy brother, we have the same belief as you. The eagle flew from the north, laid an egg on Väinämöinen’s knee and from that created the world. This do you also believe.”
To reiterate, these Karelians had no conception of the world’s creation based on the opening chapters of Genesis; instead they still held to the well-known Balto-Finnic creation story- which makes an appearance in the Kalevala- about the god Väinämöinen creating the world from the broken pieces of an egg.
Stark argues that Karelian religion revolved around reciprocal relationships (usually involving the giving of offerings in exchange for supernatural aid) between human individuals and communities and three main types of beings: saints, the dead, and various nature spirits (haltija and väki). Interestingly, the word used for Christian saints and also for their icons- in which they were seen to reside- was jumala, which literally means ‘god’. Each of these types of beings were thought to represent an ‘other world’:
The concept of the ‘other world’ or ‘other side’ glossed a number of divisions: that between the living and the dead, that between the forest wilderness and the human realm, and that between humans and divine figures such as God and saints. Each of the ‘other worlds’ also had its representative space in ‘this world’: that is, physical places or objects seen to be the locus of supranormal agency containing otherworldly force. 
I suppose the question is: does all of this constitute polytheism? Karelian folk religion certainly was based on interaction with a variety of powerful, supernatural beings, and there seems to be very little focus on a singular conception of ‘God’. Even the word itself- jumala- isn’t reserved for a monotheistic deity.
 a conversation between linguist Arvid Genetz and a woman from Ladoga Karelia; quoted in: Laura Stark. Peasants, Pilgrims and Sacred Promises: Ritual and the Supernatural in Orthodox Karelian Folk Religion (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2002) 65-66.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 46.