Let’s start a fight about religion! Pretend religion!
While your D&D PCs might worship a pantheon, they are not pantheistic. Unless they druids. Druids might just be pantheistic. Why? Well, you have to know what the two words mean.
Pantheon and Pantheism come from the same roots: PAN meaning “all” and THEOS meaning “deity.” -ISM means “a belief” of course. So how can they be different.
A PANTHEON is list of “all the deities.” That is, all of the deities a group of people collectively respect or worship is their PANTHEON. So you have the Greek Pantheon (Zeus, Athena, Ares, Apollo, and all the other characters in God of War), the Norse Patheon (Thor, Odin, Heimdall, and all the other characters from Thor), the Egyptian Pantheon (all the characters… umm… did you see Stargate), the Hindu Pantheon (some of them were mentioned in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and at least one is a Final Fantasy summon), the Shinto Pantheon (one of the fighters in Mortal Combat was from the Shinto gang), and so on.
PANTHEISM is the belief that the deities ARE everything. Not “all of the deities” but rather “all the things ARE the deities.”
Remember that one cleric who always joined your groups when you were twelve? The one who wouldn’t heal you unless you worshipped the right god and denounced all others. Yeah. That little s$&% didn’t understand how to worship a PANTHEON.
When you follow a PANTHEON, you pretty much believe in that whole list. Each of the deities has particular areas of interest and keeps particular aspects of the universe under control. And when you needed something, you tried to get the attention of that particular deity and bribe them to help you out. Usually, this was done through offerings or sacrifices. Priests were experts in the deities (usually particularly deities). They knew how to get in touch with the deities, what particular things made what particular deities happy, and what sorts of things the deities valued and what pissed them off.
When you follow PANTHEISM, you generally believe that there is no difference between the deity running the universe and the universe itself. In fact, some pantheistic beliefs don’t even acknowledge deities at all. They just assume everything is sacred. Of course, it varies from belief to belief. Some druids, for example, might believe that all things are representative of the spirits of the world. That is, all wolves contain the wolf spirit, so that the wolf spirit is just the collective of all the wolves in the world.
The whole Lifestream thing in that insipid Final Fantasy VII game? Yeah, that bulls$&% was kind of pantheistic.
So, if you are a believer in a PANTHEON, what are you? You are a POLYTHEIST. POLY meaning many. That’s opposed to MONOTHEISM, the belief that there is only one deity.
Speaking of, you might be interested to know that some modern MONOTHEISTS believe the word that starts with a G and ends with a D (you known the one) is sacrosanct for a variety of reasons. So, while we’re on the subject of pretend religions, let’s take just a moment to remember to show some respect for real religions. You might notice I’ve used the word “deity” throughout this post. That’s not a bad habit to get into (I’m just starting to get into it), especially if you’re in the habit of running games for strangers or talking about gaming with strangers. It is just a nice way to show a little respect.