Thursday, November 27, 2008

Polytheism 2

Here's the article I wrote to answer the "Anti-Neo-Pagan Apologetics" article on the Catholic Answers web page. I'll be having a busy Thanksgiving - this long piece will give people with some free time something to chew on. I greatly encourage critique on this incidentally...
In Gratitude for Blessings, on this Feast
The Nature of the Gods
Some comments from neopaganism pages, answered. Original Author in italics:

Many neo-pagans advance the claim that there should not be a single world religion with a single deity or set of deities to be worshiped by all mankind, but rather each group should worship the gods of their ancestors or of their preference.

To be more specific, neopaganism asserts that there is plainly not a single deity or set of deities that is worshiped by all mankind. Simple observation of the human interaction with the divine shows that the divine always manifests as multiple persons, forms and beings. In the same way, the core and universal principles of physical nature always produce multiple physical entities. As always, neopagans look to the facts of nature as a model for what the facts of spiritual existence will be.

The plain fact of the multiplicity of divine manifestations has led monotheism into some pretty wild assertions. The notion that all forms of the divine except those described in whoever’s revealed scripture are either simply fantasy or demons has been the traditional resort of the argument. Again, observation fails to support this idea. Descriptions of human relationships with the many-armed, skull-wearing deities of India, or the Gods of Voudoun and West African religion, or the still-simmering Neopagan relationships with the Deities all make it clear that such beings bless and aid their worshippers as surely as the deities of the Bible or Quran ever have.

When we look at material nature, we see a nearly infinite variety of forms and local expressions. In the same way the spiritual world has a riot of gods, local spirits, flows of energy and sacred potentials, which are expressed locally.
This claim creates a problem for the neo-pagan understanding of the gods, and it is fair for the Catholic apologist to point it out. Consider the implications that arise, depending on how the gods were interpreted. There would seem to be four basic ways of making sense of the claim that different people should worship different pagan pantheons: 1. The gods of different peoples really aren’t different but should be identified with each other (e.g., Zeus = Jupiter = Odin). 2. There are a great many individual gods governing different peoples. 3. The gods are projections created in some sense by the peoples that worship them. 4. The gods are merely symbols or aspects of something else.

These questions were examined by the ancients as well. It’s worth pointing out that neopaganism, like its ancient models, does not depend on or require doctrinal unity for its cohesion. Pagan ways depend on ritual, vision and myth to produce experiences that are plainly true at the time. These experiences are not required to fit neatly into a doctrinal structure, and doctrine is more likely to be shaped by such experiences than the reverse. Paganism spends a great deal of time teaching how to achieve these experiences, and rather less time on apologetics and doctrine.

Devout Pagans are not all expected to believe the same things about the Gods, though we are expected to be willing to join together around the traditional forms and practices. So in any Pagan congregation (or party…) you will be likely to find folks with any of the above opinions, and lots of folks who haven’t decided on any one opinion about what the Gods are. There might be rather more agreement about what the Gods do – provide blessings of bounty, love and wisdom, open our hearts to the spirit, help us grow closer to the spirit of the world we live in, etc.
1. If the gods of different religions are to be identified with each other, then it would not seem that there are meant to be different religions among peoples but only different rites used to worship the same set of gods. This would be especially problematic for Asatruers, who often wish to view their gods as distinct from the gods of other people. A problem for all neo-pagans would be that it is highly implausible that the deities of many pantheons can be identified with each other.

The study of mythography and lore is pretty specialized in Paganism, as the province those few who really concern themselves with it. Most Pagans are concerned with their relationship with specific personal and local forms of the Gods. In ancient days even the deities with broad cultural presence were usually addressed in their specific and local forms, often involving attaching a place-name to the big name – Diana of Ephesus, a figure quite different from the ‘Diana’ one might read of in a primer of Greek myth, is an example.

There are some schools of reconstructionist Paganism that try to find in local deities specific and distinct individual deities in every case. There is little reason, in examining the scraps of thought we have from the ancient Pagans, to agree with this notion. The ancients clearly speculated on how many Gods there might be (‘one’ wasn’t on the list of options), and whether (for example) the Gods of Rome were the same persons as those of the Gauls or Germans. Since Paganism does not depend on having proven answers to such questions, no great attention was paid to reaching agreement on the answer.
For example, in Greek and Roman paganism, the kings of the gods (Zeus and Jupiter) are in control of thunder, but the thunder god in Germanic paganism is Thor, who is not the king of the gods (that would be Odin). Similarly, in Indo-European paganisms, the sky god tends to be masculine and the earth goddess feminine, but this is reversed in Egyptian mythology. It seems impossible to establish a universal paganism treating each individual pantheon as merely a different expression of the same set of independently real, non-symbolic beings.
Conveniently, the closer together peoples dwell, the more likely their Gods are to resemble one another, both individually and in organization. So, among the Hellenes and Latins, whose histories were entwined so tightly, we find the thunder-king; while in the north, among the Celts and Germans we find the power of magic and wisdom – in Wodan and Lugos – on the throne. It is these very differences that have lead Pagan thinkers to suspect that the Gods are very numerous indeed.

The desire for ‘universal’ religion is a monotheist thing. In Neopaganism, no deity is or can be universal – divinity’s manifestations are local. The Earth and the Sky are not the same around the world – one place moist, another dry, fertile or barren, safe or dangerous. There is no reason to think that divine manifestation would be any more homogenous.
2. If the gods of each paganism aren’t to be identified, then there would seem to be multiple deities for every aspect of nature.

There are multiple material manifestations of every aspect of nature. Why wouldn’t there be multiple spiritual ones as well?

Each people will have its own thunder god, its own vegetation god, et cetera. This leads to an implausible situation in many cases.

Implausible compared to what? It is only the rote assumption that ‘spiritual’ reality must transcend the local that brings up any problem.

If Thor controls the thunder in Scandinavia, why should neo-pagans of Norse descent in America pray to him? Why shouldn’t they pray to an American Indian thunder deity who controls the local thunder? Further, our solar system has only one sun. Just how many sun gods can there be?

All these questions have been asked by ancient Pagans as well. Again, observation shows that it is simply so – explaining it is an ongoing task.

One of the core principles of Pagan theology is that spiritual reality is symbolic reality, by definition. Truths about spiritual things are seldom, maybe never, literal truths. All spiritual manifestation is symbolic – it can vary at the will of the being involved, or vary depending on the ability or inclination of the human who perceives it. So, whether the deities are vastly many or fewer, they will appear in local fashion as proper to the time and place.

3. A theory advanced by some is that the gods are in some sense projections of or creations of their worshipers. If the gods were projections, then today of all days the gods would seem to have only tiny power because of tiny number of their followers. It would be difficult to imagine such beings as worthy of worship.

Any being that blesses us is worthy of worship. The conceit that worship is to be reserved for the highest and mightiest is one of the great failings of monotheism.

The time of the Gods does not seem to be the same as mortal time. The ancient Gods, and the land-spirits and ancestors, were worshipped for many millennia. A break of one millennium is hardly enough to make them unavailable to their modern worshippers.

It also should also be noted that no historic pagans seem to have held this view of their deities. It would seem to be a modern idea—some might even say an intellectually desperate, last-ditch idea—introduced to insulate polytheism from the intellectual problems that otherwise arise for it.

I agree that this is a modern idea. Many Neopagans are rejecting this, along with Jungian and archetypal definitions of deity, in favor of a more personal relationship with real spiritual beings. However one may be, in fact, a materialist and participate whole-heartedly in Pagan ways. If the Gods exist only in our minds, and religion is a structure of mind that helps us gain surprising results from our minds, then it’s worth doing.
4. Finally, some suppose that the gods do not have independent, objective reality but are just symbols. The question is: symbols of what?
It is a symptom of the disease of modernism to use the phrase ‘just symbols’. Symbols frequently have more objective, independent effect than trucks or stones. The Gods *are* symbols – they are persons who are symbols. Their symbolic nature is one of their great spiritual powers, and Pagans honor that, even as we work personally with the spirits. They are symbols of the highest aspects of ourselves, of the inner spiritual reality behind material life, of the inspiration from and aspiration toward the divine.
On the one hand, if they are symbols of nature and natural forces, then it is difficult to see why they should be worshiped. Electricity is part of nature, but if one does not worship it when it comes from a light socket, it is difficult to see why one should worship it when one imagines and names a symbolic thunder god to represent it.
Worship means ritualized respect. To learn to respect and honor the natural world that sustains and supports us seems only wise. The western idea of dead matter has lead only to ill, and neopagans hope to cure those ills with an organic spirituality that recognizes the animistic spiritual presence within matter itself.

Further, the empirical evidence seems to show that the universe itself does not have a mind or a personality. Only by looking beyond nature—to the God who designed nature—can one find transcendent value worthy of worship.
Polytheism would agree that the universe does not have a mind – it has many minds, all working together to make the great pattern that is existence. Ancient Pagan creation tales never describe one creator of all things. Even when there is a Prime Mover, that Mover is never the all-powerful owner-operator-creator of the Whole Deal. Different deities and spirits create different things, from animals to local land-features to cities and temples.

Again, the notion that only the transcendent is worthy of worship is unique to monotheism, and poisonous to a natural relationship with the spiritual world. Pagans learn to respect the spirit in all things, and the spirits of all things, and the Gods and Goddesses who are the mightiest of the spirits. It’s worship all the way down…

On the other hand, if the answer is given that the gods are symbols of a fundamental spiritual reality that transcends the physical world, then it would seem (since all independent status already has been denied to the gods by rejecting the three alternatives just considered) that one is left with a form of fundamental monotheism that is only cloaked with polytheistic symbols.
Nature transcends local manifestation in some ways, but in practice it is the local manifestation of nature that we deal with. Spiritual matters are likewise. Paganism has often speculated about the Oneness of all things. However this has never lead Pagan philosophers to propose that there is only One Person who is worthy of worship. If there is an all-one reality, it transcends personhood, or good and ill, or male and female, or being and nonbeing. Such an existence is not related in any way to the monotheist notion of ‘God’.
That being the case, why should one use the symbols? Why not worship the Creator directly and explore the question of whether he cares for and has spoken to man, as monotheism has historically claimed?

Mainly because the claims made for the ‘creator’ of the various monotheisms don’t hold water. Most notably, the various monotheisms do not, themselves, agree on the name, nature, deeds or desires of their alleged ‘one god’. Starting there, and with the plain failure of monotheism to describe religous experience as humans know it, there seems no reason to accept monotheism’s assertions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Magic Words, Druid Magic, and a Spell.

Magic is what it is, but to me one of the main reasons for choosing the aesthetic of ‘magic’ or ‘sorcery’ over that of, say prayer and devotion or silent simplicity is the coolness of traditional magical forms. I’m entirely willing to admit that I am juiced by the ritual forms of traditional occult practice. Of course I intend to use that juice to power my workings, so why not just admit it, and enjoy it?

One of those cool tropes is the use of voces magicae – magical words. In the various cultures of the ancient world it was common to borrow powerful names and formulae from the area’s cultures, and employ them rather mechanically as sources of magical strength and authority. The eclectic 1st-century-bc mage would conjure by Osiris, Hecate and Adonai if it brought him the result he sought. Other sorts of magical verbal formulae were apparently constructed by using the letters of one’s sacred alphabet symbolically, to create long strings of vowels or compound words and names, anagrams, etc.

From the other end of the Indo-European range, the Vedic spiritual practice of mantram amounts to ‘magic words’ in those systems. Mantras are generally actual sentences in Sanskrit expressing some mythic symbol or simply listing the names or attributes of a deity. They are often brought into effect by multiple repetitions, often accompanied by offerings, hand or body positions, and other symbolism.

Even in northern heathenry we find the practice of galdor – the singing or intoning of sounds based in the Runes – to accomplish various magical goals. We also here of the vardhlokkur – the song sung to draw the spirits to the seer’s high seat in the seidh rite. It’s plain that northern tradition valued both abstract, non-word expressions of power as well as verse and meter in magical work.

So, as we approach a Druidic practical magic, how can we bring some of this juice into our work? There are a couple of hints of the use of ‘nonsense’ syllables in Gaelic folk-magic. The famous ‘Fith Fath’ spell uses such syllables, as do other Scots charms in Carmichael. These seem to me to participate in the syllable-set of mouth music, but if they ever had an esoteric or symbolic meaning that is lost today. Of course that doesn’t mean we couldn’t employ them in magic – meaninglessness doesn’t mean they are powerless.

We might also mention the notion of using the antique Celtic languages as a source of magic words. Of course many reconstructionists would point out that simply having the skill to speak one’s charms in the native tongue of a Celtic people should bring a good charge of might. For those of us with less skill we might still resort to books on Old Irish to find words that might be used in various ways in spells and works.

For the sake of experiment I have decided to take a different approach. We know how much the Celts valued poetry as a source of magical power. There’s no argument about the power of poets in Gaelic society to bring luck or ill, and otherwise display ‘magic’ powers. So I’ve been crafting some very simple charms that employ a spoken spells written either in tightly composed rhyme and meter, or using some of the motifs of repetition and patterning we see in translated Gaelic charms. Those of us who have spent a while re-Paganizing charms from the Carmina Gadelica have tended to arrive at a style influenced more by Carmichael’s translations than by the original Gaelic. The originals are almost all in rhyme and meter and, while this may go against the grain of the sort-of declamatory style that ‘Druids’ tend to seek, does express an essentially Celtic tradition. So I’ve decided that tightly woven rhyme and meter, or any well-composed poetry, has a degree of intrinsic magical influence. The will is turned into ‘magic words’ by being expressed in beauty, balance and order, so that it simply becomes true in the balance and order of the world.

Below is a spell composed in this way – I’m rather proud of its structure and internal rhyme.

To Banish Ill Spirits & Fear

When a cloud of fear or a troublesome spirit is upon you this simple charm can clear a way, at least for a moment. Prepare a simple means to light a fire by hand. A match is sufficient or even a common lighter. Prepare the fire in your hands so that it can be lit immediately. Bring the Underworld Power into you. Understand it as a whole and wholesome darkness that contains all potential. Know it to be very different from any darkness or ill that threatens. Recite the charm and, as it ends, call the Bright Power strongly into you as you spark your small fire.

The Charm:

Turn, turn, dark to dawn
Ill be gone, banish fear
Fire and Spear, Hand of Lugh,
Bright and true and clear.

Shine, shine, flame in dark
Kindle spark, growing bright
In my Sight, by my hand
Strong I stand in Light.

Fire, fire, kindled here
Mighty Spear, fly for me
Dark must flee, Shining Lugh
May it truly be!

Draw the Sky Power strongly into you as you strike your small fire. See the Spear of Lugh shining above you, turning in every direction. Hold you flame high and poceed, if you wish, or use it to light a candle for a longer-lasting banishing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Are Occultists Lame?

I hang around a forum called the Catholic Answers Forum. This happened because I discovered an article there called 'Anti-Neo-Pagan Apologetics ( ).
I wrote an extended answer to the article (available in ADF list archives, maybe here if folks want to see it) and posted it in the 'Non-Catholic Religions' forum, sparking a long, interesting discussion. I have since hung around as a hopefully-rational voice for Neopaganism and the occult. Lately a thread arose called "A Warning Against Satanism, Neopaganism Occultism, etc..." one poster, 'Soterion', wrote a pretty good critique of the typical Christian anti-occult nonsense. However, when he described his notion of the 'real dangers' of the occult, I took exception to a couple of his assertions. here's what I just posted. It's an interesting topic - how does being a member of a marginal spiritual system that pushes us into unusual beliefs and practices affect our relationship with the common social world, jobs, family, etc? Why would we bother? Big questions - I'll start here:

Soterion in italic, about the biggest danger of occultism:
1) Escape into Fantasy:Now Atheists out there might say, "Well, Christians escape into fantasy also. They believe in fantastical figures like Yahweh, Saints, Jesus and angels". But, there is a HUGE difference. Christians do not actually believe that they ARE Yahweh, or Jesus, or reincarnated angels. Well, maybe some do, but it's very atypical of Christians as a group.
On the other hand, Christianity regularly produces men who believe they carry the consecrating power of Jesus Christ in their hands, are able to bind and loose sin by their word, and administer divine things to more 'ordinary' mortals. Occult systems offer no means of regular recognition of a spiritual vocation, and almost everyone who seriously pursues occultism is responding to a sense of calling. Perhaps it's the lack of institutional structure that allows some occultists (and they do exist) to arrive at truly unusual beliefs about themselves. Not that there's anything very 'normal' about what a Roman priest is taught to believe about himself...

On the other hand, with one exception, I have yet to meet a so-called 'occultist' who did believe himself to be a reincarnated god, demon, messiah, anti-messiah, mythological creature or "Adept" (occult version of a Saint, more or less).
This is outgareously false, and amounts to mere bigotry. Either the poster has never bothered to look very deeply into the occult community, or is simply exaggerating or fabricating for emphasis. I have been a working occultist for 30 years, and have worked in several circles of neopagan occultism, and have seldom encountered any beliefs about the self that seem more 'delusional' than, say, holding that one is protected by angels or saints. I have maintained a normal working life, owned homes, etc, married helped to raise children, etc. This has been the case with the vast majority of Pagans and occultists I have known, and is the case across the US with the Neopagan and occult movement.

The typical Christian, even if you believe him to be delusional, can still function in day to day society. The typical occultist, however, cannot.
Again, this is merely false. Any look at the numbers from surveys of neopagan and occult systems will prove it.
Now, I will say that the sense of vocation that many occultists feel may cause them to value their spiritual practice above their common labor. I suspect that if Catholic Christianity were counter-cultural, without well-established instituions that can provide a living for those who wish to devote themselves to spiritual practice, we'd see more folks holding marginal jobs that give them plenty of time for prayers and devotions at their home shrines. Instead, these folks can become monks and nuns, live in community, not worry about 'fitting' in modern commercial culture, and live a life of devotion. Nice for them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This Blogging Stuff 2

See, it’s relatively easy to post stuff from my files, articles, invocations etc, and I will, but I seem to think that I ought to be ‘journaling’ as well, or talking about the stream of my consciousness, such as it is. I have a couple three book reports coming up, good Celtic Paganism and Pagan Magic resources, but I have to actually write them. Shall it be Lovecraft? Spellcraft? Kraft Mac&Cheese? (I like them all). As I do various rites and works, I will talk about the parts I can talk about. In the meantime I have a couple of topics I’m sort of cooking. We’ll start with:

Daimons, the an-Deithe, and the Kindreds

In ADF’s Druidism, and in some other branches of Celtic Paganism, it has become customary to divide the world of spiritual beings into Three Kindreds of beings. These are conventionally the Gods, the Dead and the Sidhe. I enjoy using the Irish word for the third category, but it is also often referred to as the ‘Nature Spirits’ or, in a Germanic idiom, as the Landwights. This Third Kindred has remained a bit of an enigma in ADF’s understanding. Lately I think I’m making a little headway into comprehending it, based on cultural models from other Indo-European systems. I’m not sure I can make this coherent yet, but I’m going have a go at it.

The Hellenic concept of the ‘daimon’ has been fascinating me lately. Daimons are immaterial or semi-material beings of great power and wisdom. In archaic, Homeric Greek religion, the term daimon seems nearly interchangeable with the term ‘theos’ – a deity. Even the Olympians are referred to as daimons, and minor spirits of the local land may be referred to as theoi. In later Hellenistic Paganism ‘daimon’ comes to refer to spirits intermediate between mortals and the Gods – vastly wiser and more powerful than most mortals, but not of the highest divine family. These beings might receive sacrifices themselves, but also ‘carried the sacrifices’ between human ritual and the Gods themselves, and conveyed the Blessings of the Gods to mortals, in turn. These beings were considered various in their morality, integrity and power, though the formal hierarchies of later ‘angelic’ choirs didn’t really appear in Pagan times. The spirits of the dead, especially of heroes, were also said to become daimons.

OK, this makes ‘daimon’ a pretty broad category. In many ways the easiest English word to use for a translation is ‘spirit’. The Gods are spirits, the Dead are spirits, the Landspirits are… spirits. (We should bear in mind, however, that the ancients were entirely willing to suggest that these beings are semi-material – that they have bodies ‘of fine matter’ or ‘of the air’ that can interact in the material world.) So, how can we relate this Mediterranean idea to more Northern myths?

One little puzzle that we have run up against is the problem of the ambivalent position of the ‘Tuatha De Danann’ in Irish myth and Paganism. By the time we see these beings in literature, they have become the Folk Under the Mound – their war with the mortal Gaels (per the Book of Invasions) was over and they had gone under the earth. However it is plain that the First Family of the Tuatha De – the immediate children of Dana and their immediate offspring – are in effect the Gods. They plainly correspond in many cases to the Gods of continental Celtic peoples. Yet into the historical period those spirits act as local spirits in the land of Ireland.

When we remember that even the Olympians could be called daimons, and that even local stream and stone spirits could also be called daimons, we see a parallel that might point at a Pagan solution. I think this may be an example of pollution from our monotheist history to try to define ‘(a) god’ as something uniquely different from ‘lesser’ spirits and beings. It doesn’t seem to me that this was the case in ancient Indo-European polytheism. The Gods are the Eldest and Wisest, Mightiest and Loveliest, but they are not, at base, different in kind from the rest of the beings we might call ‘the Spirits’.

It seems to me that in the Irish monkish chronicles we find exactly the sort of demotion of the Gods into ‘mere’ spirits’ that we see in later classical and early Christian ideas in which the daimonic becomes first semi-corrupt ‘lower’ spirits and then the ‘demons’ of Christian lore. In Pagan tradition the Gods and the Spirits were always of the same sort, but in later models the demotion of the lesser beings from divine status took the Gods with them. It seems to me that as today’s Pagans we have the job of restoring both the Gods and the rest of the spirits to their rightful places.

The Gaels had a turn of phrase by which they referred to the spirits – De ocus an-De - the Gods and the Not Gods. Plainly the Gaels themselves sought to make a distinction between the Eldest and Mightiest and the rest of the family or nation – tuatha – of the spirits. Interestingly they do not plainly divide the ‘not-Gods’ into our two categories of Dead and Spirits – we’re getting to that.

Gaelic lore poses another problem in relation to our conventional Three Kindreds model. It is extremely difficult to tell the Folk Under the Mound from the Mighty Dead. Trooping Sidhe, sluagh hosts, Kings Beneath are all plainly recalled as of the Aes Sidhe (people of the mound), yet all have features that recall the Dead. When we recall that in Hellenic culture the Dead became daimons, it suggests that perhaps human spirits simply became the Shining Folk that we hear so much about, or at least some of them.
This still leaves that third category – Everyone Else. It seems pretty clear to me that this category was far from insignificant in the Hellenic world. Daimons were drawn to every sacrifice, by the light of the Fire and the smell of the sacrifices, as it were. Powerful spirits of stream and tree, storm and wave were proper objects of sacrifice – daimon was interchangeable with theos. In parallel we might say that all the spirits of Gaelic Paganism – at least all those who aren’t the Dead – are the Tuatha De Danann – the Nation of the Goddess, but there is a distinction between the Eldest and Wisest and the innumerable crowd of spirits who make up the spiritual worlds.

I think there is much to be gained by beginning to pay more attention to this third category of being. Our modern usage of Nature Spirits or Landwights has, perhaps, directed our attention toward spirits manifesting as animals, plants and natural features. Our modern ecological awareness has tended to focus us even on living beings, and we find folks offering to the spirits of their household pets, still living on the furniture. While I have no objection to reverencing living beings, I suspect this isn’t quite what the ancients had in mind. I suspect there are more exalted spiritual powers in these categories that we could be approaching.
As to what those might be, I may speculate in another post. This is enough for now…

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ritual - the Core of Pagan Religion

This short article was originally written to answer a critique on a witchvox page, but never got sent, so, up it goes here... next some more immediate stuff...

Ritual – A Road to the Gods
Ian Corrigan

Fairly often, in our Neopagan revival, someone comes along who would like to try to wake us up to some perceived failing. They have a seen a fault, a lack or an overabundance, that they think could be fixed if People Would Just Act Right. One of the stranger complaints is that witchcraft has ‘become’ full of ritual and symbolism. Such iconoclastic preachments usually suggest that ritual is somehow false, pretend or empty, and that ‘all we have to do’ is some vaguely-defined internal process, and we can have all the things we think we want from ritual.

Personally, I think such attitudes are a huge mistake. Ritual, symbolism and lore are the heart of what makes religion function. To try to set them aside is to take most of the strength and depth out of spiritual practice. Our Pagan movement needs to become more involved with well-designed, well-performed ritual – not with half-baked spell-casting or self-healing fads, I think, but with rites that truly bring humans closer to the divine.

Ancient magic and religion relied utterly on ritual, symbolism and spiritual tools. The more traditional and close to the land and the spirits one goes, the more one sees cultures with detailed and formal ritual and spiritual objects – idols, wands, cups, drums, and all. The notion of abandoning the making of images and tools would simply never occur to a traditional practitioner – it would be like giving up the use of one’s voice.

I think that modern thinking on religion and ritual has been wounded by two big historical trends. The first is the Protestant reformation. A couple of the Big Ideas in that reworking of Christianity were the Priesthood of All Believers, and a (more or less) strict removal of ritual, images, sanctified objects, ritual prayers, etc. This rejection of ritual and magic has infected most of the English-speaking world. The second big trend is materialism and the reductionism that comes with modern thought. In our entertainment culture, we often mistake cynicism for wisdom, and in terms of ritual, we sometimes think that the similarity of ritual to theater speaks badly of ritual. Theater, drama and fiction all are reductions, dissections and taxidermies of powerful sacred tools.

The oldest and deepest of human spiritual traditions all acknowledge that in order for spirit to be made real in the world, it must be brought into matter. This is our special ability as humans – we are able to create symbols and images through which the immaterial power of the Gods can be brought more directly into the world of mortal life. This is, I think, the work of Pagan religion – to bring the divine into matter, to lead our common mind away from the mundane into the wild and high, even when we find it in objects made by our own hands (or purchased at a witch-store).

The human ability to shape matter is just one of the clear evidences that we are players in the spiritual cosmos. We can also speak – one of our greatest material and spiritual powers - and we can learn to perceive spiritual things. Through these abilities we make our spirituality happen, and it is in ritual that these abilities are best combined. Ritual is the crown of human creativity, in which music, poetry, shaping (as in images and tools), are combined with human will and the skills of trance and vision to reach out toward the divine. As a Pagan, I don’t believe in any omnipotent or omniscient being – only in the divine in its many persons. The Gods need human help to consistently give their blessing to our lives, and ritual is one of the main ways to help.

With the aid of ritual, all other spiritual goals become more reachable. Modern Pagans are using ritual to develop devotional relationships with the Gods and Goddesses. I think that old influences from ceremonial magic and ‘occultism’ did lead some Pagans to view the deities as ‘impersonal forces’ to be ‘used’. I think that model is becoming less popular, and being somewhat replaced by a model that deals with the Gods and Spirits as persons, in personal love and respect. That personal relationship is fostered and enabled by ritual.

I think it is true that the divine exists inside each of us. The divine is in all things, I think, and can be found in a stone, or a tree, or you or me. But since the divine exists in all things, it exists both within me, and outside of me. There is much to be seen that is not within me, at least not the ‘me’ that I live with daily. To seek the divine in a mountain, in the moon, in an idol or in the poetry of a ritual makes perfect sense, as long as I remember that the same ‘god shape’ probably also lives in me. In fact, I think that when we awaken a god in ourselves, it tends to attract the god-parts that are outside us, and when we invoke a deity from outside ourselves, it tends to awaken the god-shaped part in ourselves. So, by using images, poetry and theatrical ritual, we are better able to bring the Gods into our ken, and thus become more like them in our selves. That’s certainly what the ancient wise ones did, with workings like Eleusis.

When we bring the spiritual into the material, we make it real in our lives. It is easy to contemplate the divine as some immaterial abstract, but when the God is present before you, the business becomes rather more immediate. Without the boundaries of matter, the divine has little meaning or impact on the world as we know it – that’s why all ancient Pagan ways made limited locations and focus-points for the gods, where they could come through and humans could reach out.

The divine is not limited to the gods. Lesser spirits, including our own, partake of the divine, and so do small material things, like crystals. The work of human hands is a divine work, in which our own power of shaping and creating brings form out of potential, according to will. When we make a wand, or a shrine, or a robe, we make a form, a material reality, for a small piece of the divine. I don’t really even see this as metaphor – to the extent that the gods are literally real, so is our power to make magical material things.

I think that to attempt to do religion with mental skills alone, without ritual, objects and images, would be to have only half a thing, at best. To me, that seems like doing music only in one’s head. One can, of course, produce fine melodies and lyrics in the mind alone – but what a waste not to manifest them in matter!

When something has no boundaries, no limitation, it has no real existence. Everything that is real has its limitations, and so, I must think, do all the real manifestations of the divine. I think humans help the divine to be real, by offering it limited forms. If Pagan ways are going to continue to grow and thrive, as they are doing, I think we can only be more diligent in our efforts to manifest the divine in our material world.

For me, ritual is one of the most accessible methods we have for accomplishing the manifestation of the Gods and Spirits. It is the use of human art and skill to bring powerful symbols into meaningful patterns, leading the human mind into perception of the divine. Far from needing to ‘see beyond’ rituals and tools, I think we need to get down into them, to really learn to use their (and our) power to bring the divine into the mortal world.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Polytheism 1

Comment on
Polytheism, Pantheism, or Panentheism: Shedding Light on Pagan Theology
Author: Eldyohr Posted: June 8th. 2008 on

An interesting article on Pagan theology, which I think misses a couple of points. Please forgive my boldness in taking this on – Pagan theology is a hobby of mine. I don’t consider it as important to our movement as, say, ritual practice or meditation, but it makes a fun pass-time. I’ll begin by quoting:

Eldohyr says:
A modern scientific perspective will tend to reject polytheism because of its incompatibility with our understanding of nature. If there really were different, independent gods in charge of all the different aspects of reality, then we shouldn't necessarily have a set of natural laws that are common to all parts of reality. The laws of physics would not need to apply to chemistry and the laws of chemistry would not need to apply to biology, and so on. Scientific order would find no basis if multiple gods were working at potentially cross-purposes.

There are several reasons why traditional polytheisms (and I’ll be working from a perspective of Indo-European traditional Paganism – not much reference to Africa or China…) didn’t have this sort of problem in practice.
First, the universe is generally described as formed from some universal first principle – usually this is the ‘Body’ of the First being…Ymir among the Norse, Purusha among the Vedic peoples. This First Being’s nature is the all-nature of the created world, in which even the Gods exist. Divinity doesn’t transcend this nature – it arises in it.

Polytheistic deities are not, generally, omniscient or omnipotent. They are not capable of remaking (all of) reality at will, they are subject to fate and to the acts of other gods, even grateful for the worship of mortals and willing to make deals with us. The Gods work *through* the natural laws, not outside them (usually). So there’s no real danger of various gods making different ‘natures’ in different places – we’re all One Substance, held together by the Web of Fate (and even the Fates are triple).

There is also a self-defeating nature to the polytheistic denial of ultimate unity. Everything cannot be radically pluralistic. We live in a uni-verse not a multi-verse. Indeed, the polytheistic position is offered as a unified system of thought. But in presenting a unified thought about ultimate reality, they deny the very philosophy they are advocating.

Traditional polytheism always includes some variety of Monism – a category the author missed. Monism, as found in such systems as Vedanta, holds that all manifest existence is a part of One Great Whatsis. The nature of the Whatsis varies from culture to culture. Most often I think it’s fair to call it One Great Process, in which the sum of the actions of all beings creates reality as we all find it, the reality in which both gods and mortals live. This One Process isn’t willfull – it doesn’t have a plan, it isn’t a person – all such decisions must be made by the individuals who dance the Dance. Some radical monism has become near monotheism, especially under influence of invading monotheistic systems, but all ancient Indo-European Pagan systems have a monistic component.

If there are polytheistic Pagans that haven’t noticed this, I do think they need to have a look. However, even the above two principles – Original Unity and Non-omni – cover a lot of these objections.

This Blogging Stuff

Well, I'm going to give it a try.
Like I need one more thing to do on the computer.
However, I think I can make this rather fun for me, and perhaps useful for students of Druidic Paganism and magic.
So, that's the focus of this blog - the work of building a modern Celtic or Druidic spiritual practice, from the exoteric work of public sacrifices and other rites, to the work of spiritual practice and training for the individual, to more esoteric matters of sorcery, spirit-art and the like, all in a Celtic or Druidic context.
My own background includes a decade working in a Wiccan tradition with a strong ceremonial-magic element, experiments in Solomonic magic, years of ecstatic festival drum-and-dance ritual, and the last 15 years or so of working in the Pagan Druidic system of Ar nDraiocht Fein. For me this history has meant a transition from the Hermetic Qabalah of the GD, and the planetary magic it contains, through a Wiccan version of Celtic lore, to a fairly reconstructionist approach to Pagan religion, spirituality and magic.
My own theological orientation is a relatively hard polytheism, laced with mystical monism. My ritual orientation is fairly high-church - I enjoy ritual as an art-form as well as a means to an end. My mystical inclination is a kind of Pagan post-Thelema, seeing the personal soul as containing a true and real individual spark of the All, both unifed with and separate from the All-in-All.
You can find out all you need to know about the exoteric and religious part of my practice at, and read some of my own essays (now rather old) at, the site of our local Grove. With that group I have kept the cycles of the year for these past, oh, 17 years. You can see my published work at - the most important - at least most comprehensive - of that material is "Sacred Fire, Holy Well" my Big Book o' Druidism.
By the way, I'm also a fantasy, horror and, especially, Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos fan. You'll see reviews and some of that stuff here as well.
So... what to post first...