The 'supernatural' is often considered the sine qua non of religion. Certainly the Gods and Spirits must be considered supernatural, yes? Well…not necessarily.
Perhaps central to Neo Pagan practices is the petition of Deity. The crudest of formulas for Neo Pagan ritual would be: create a sacred space, invoke deity, pay homage and/or petition, and dismiss. Though some petitions might be spontaneous and overlook some elements of space or decorum ( i.e. Penczack’s “instant magic”), the desires and force of will are almost always necessarily in conjunction with some form of request to a higher power. Linguistically, one could simply put it as; “to petition”, a subject must have an object to call upon. Even in the instance of petitioning the self, drawing forth some sort of believed, hidden energy from the depths of the practitioners psyche, the petitioner is calling upon an “other” to change or work with the “self”.
What must be maintained through all of this is the concept of petitioning an “outside” identity, but just who do we call upon when we admit there is something beyond our scope of capability? The primary idea of this outside force is that of Deity or God. Familiar attributes we assign Deity are the three “omni” qualities: Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent. Abrahamic overtones aside, when one sets out to define Deity, the curious habit of assigning human characteristics also follows suit after our triformula of Deity. However, in our attempt to humanize Deity, what is often overlooked in favor of a more favorable god, is that to include human characteristics to an inherently transcendent idea is anathema to a logical definition of Deity. Put colloquially, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This problem arises due to the limitations of human qualities; If we maintain Deity is all knowing, why do certain pagan deities have areas of expertise or realms of import? If the God in question is truly a God, would not specific realms of importance be superfluous?...
As you probably know there has been a powerful and effective move on the part of the Republican party to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive health services at the state level since the 2010 elections. What drives this is a theological notion that amounts to the establishment a religion in violation of the 1st Amendment of the US constitution. Those who object to the imposition of restrictions on access to abortion should recognize that it is a theological battle. Come see why. . .
(or The Fundamentals of Polytheism: Principle #1)
Today i was reading a good article by John Halstead summing up various perspectives in the recent heroes vs. superheroes community wide debate. Now I don't agree with much of Halstead's theories mind you, and completely disagree in every possible way with the very idea of "Jungian Neo-Paganism", but he's a thoughtful and engaged writer and I respect his willingness and ability to delve *critically* into an idea or controversy, which he did in this article. I was particularly taken with his idea that behind much of the polytheistic response here is resistance to the de-sacralizing of our traditions and that is absolutely correct. We are fighting to keep the Gods and the numinous, the Powers, and mystery in contemporary traditions of the sacred and it's an uphill battle.
As I was discussing this on Facebook, noting that as a result of this debate, I intended to write a series of articles on what I think are the fundamentals of polytheism, Teo Bishop asked me if I would be expanding on the 'nature of real-ness' of the Gods in my upcoming articles, if I would be positing a theory, what he (and I believe Halstead also) termed a theory of the ontological nature of the Gods.'....
As I see it, there are three pillars of the Kemetic religion(s), in all its (or their) many forms. These pillars are: The gods, the practices, and the concept of ma'at. It is this third, ma'at, that I will be discussing in this particular post.
Ma'at is often translated as Truth, Justice, Good, Order, or Cosmic Order. It is all of those things at once, in a way that can't be adequately conveyed with any one of the above English words or phrases. For the Egyptians, the stability of the cosmos was not a fundamentally different thing from a king ruling justly. They were both manifestations of ma'at, and the lack thereof (an unstable cosmos, an unjust king, with the resulting disorder in the land) would be considered a lack of ma'at, and signs of its opposite, isfet (often translated as "evil" or "disorder".)
The gods are said to live on ma'at as we live on food. I would stretch this bit of theology farther, based on a couple of points:
Yesterday was Walpurgisnacht, the night in which German witches are said to fly around on broomsticks and revel. Today is Beltane and my birthday. I was born in the early morning hours between Walpurgisnacht and Beltane, to a German mother and an Irish-German-American father in the birth town of the Grim brothers. It makes me think that magic runs in my blood, and yet this is the first year in which I will dance the may pole.
It haven't even walked this pagan path for a full year and a day. I am still a new witchlet and yet I am practically watching my theology come together - like pieces rising from the ashes of a puzzle destroyed in the fire. When my previous Christian theology went up in flames I thought agnosticism was the best the world could offer me. The resurrection of belief has been more than an intellectual delight, it has been a breath of new life. To not only disbelieve the old things but to believe in new things. I believe again!
But what exactly do I believe? Teo Bishop put together a great list of pagan beliefs in his post Crowdsourcing Pagan Theology....
Or, How Transcendentalism and Panentheism are theological notions unworthy of contemporary Pagans.
The view I take in these matters is Pantheist, which simply stated is the intuition that All is God (from Pan = All, Theos = God), for whatever value of ‘God’ you care to apply. Many Pagans today hold to some variation on this perceptive. The Pantheist view makes ideas like Transcendentalism and Panentheism logically untenable, and they have some further consequences for Pagans that make it worthwhile to remove them from our thinking.
I'm currently working on a new article (after way too long a hiatus, I know) and if all goes well, I'll have that for you next week. There are a number of issues and topics that have caught my attention, I have a few projects in the works, plus I still owe the final article in my 'honoring city spirits' series. That's all in progress and i'm hoping to post weekly now that my school term is nearly finished, but in the meantime, i wanted to make a brief announcement.
This post started as a discussion of whether some Pagan traditions are more “privileged” than others. It rapidly became deeper than this.
When I first became a Pagan and began thinking about the deeper implications of my spiritual path, my first major insight was that since Spirit is everywhere, every spiritual tradition, including those made up from whole cloth, have the potential of carrying someone closer to harmony with the Sacred. For example, even if Gerald Gardner simply made up Gardnerian Wicca (which I do NOT believe), that the Gods come in our workings is all the proof I need that it is a valid path – at least for me.
Several major insights grew from this realization....
Why are we not enlightened? In this case I mean why do we not experience ourselves, from the moment we are conscious, as an inalienable part of the Divine, with all Its resources and presence? Our fears and worries tell us that we are not immortal, omnipotent, omniscient, etc, etc. . .even when we know we are part of the Divine. We don’t feel it, at least at first. I think there is an explanation, and it’s a good one, if a bit weird. But, it requires a suspension of our assumptions to understand it. So, please give me a chance to lay it out. You see, God was bored. . .
What of the Many Gods? Are they really all One? Are they distinct individuals? Is it the same deity in many cultures? We continue our development of a Pagan Systematic Theology by addressing the Gods Themselves and some thoughts on how to think about our work with Them.
One of the really great questions humans have been working on for literally ages is “Is the World One or Many? You can find a long tour of this process in McEvilley’s “The Shape of Ancient Thought” [The kindle edition is cheap!]. We can see even in stone age mythologies efforts to express the general intuition humans have of the unity of the world.
Philosophically this is called ‘monism’ and all the great religions that develop deep self-critical literature have some form of this stance. The One of the Neoplatonists, the Tao, Shunyata for the Buddhists, are all very different ways of apprehending that unity. It is possible to confuse monism with monotheism as some scholars are doing today. (See Athanassiadi’s "Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity".) But as soon as you have other Deities in the system, as did the ancient Neoplatonists, it can’t be monotheism, which is specifically the rejection of all deities, except one. Indeed, in the ancient world Christians were considered and referred to as ‘atheists’ because they denied the Gods.
We discussed the world from the viewpoint of its simplicity and unity in my last blog-post, now we need to turn to its divine multiplicity. Gnosis published an early effort of mine on this subject in 1993 (What is Polytheism and how I became Polytheistic). Those were not bad ideas, but I would like to take a different tack today. . .
This is part two of a two-part blog that tries to move beyond the binary distinction of life and death. Please read the first part if you have not as you will get more out of this post if you do. To break out of the dichotomy of life and death we need to introduce identity as another measure of the attributes of existence. In order to explore how identity helps us to expand our understanding of life and death, let's start with the very large and then move down into the very small.
As promised, I’m beginning below the process of building a positive notion of the Divine, a constructive, systematic, theology. Of course, this is built on my own thoughts and views developed from my studies of science and the humanities, informed by the various theologies and narratives I have been exposed to. It is the output of that internal discussion and so I’m not constructing this as an argument, rather as something of a discursive story.
I presume your milage will vary, and well it should. I’m not writing this for you to agree with me (although you are welcome to), rather as an expression of my thoughts on the matter and as an example of one way to do this. We can debate forever, but at some point we need to make and here is my current product, ever subject to change. Frankly, you should do this for yourself, based on your own foundation. Nor do I claim the below is complete. I expect to be adding to it as time goes on and this is just the first layer. There are many issues with the Divine that need to be discussed but that won’t happen in one blog post. For now I simply invite you to read, reflect, and if you wish, respond.
I’ve very grateful for all of the on- and off-blog posts to me about the question of evil. It is gratifying to know that I’m being read. Before we go deeper into specific subjects, I want to take a step back and gain some perspective on our project. This blog is an experiment in what is technically called Systematic Theology. It is systematic in that it endeavors to cover core issues pertaining to a religious tradition, here Pagan, in an orderly, coherent, where appropriate rational, and hopefully complete way. This is different from Practical Theology, which has to do with applying theology to life (although we’ll do some of that too). Practical theology has a variety of sub-disciplines like pastoral, political or liturgical theologies, dealing with theology in the context of the practitioner’s service to a population, or in application to political or social discourse, or with respect to ritual practice, respectively. But now, I want to talk about the idea of theology itself.