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Old 06-03-2008, 05:56 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Why Neo-Paganism?

Recently, in a PM discussion, I was asked "why Paganism?" It is not the first time I've been asked this question. Some people feel that Paganism is an "old" way of thinking about religion and spirituality (and I mean old as in, out-moded).

So why is there a minority of us- a very rapidly growing minority- that are returning to earth-based traditions? What is it in these religions that calls to us?

I'm curious what different Neo-Pagan traditions we have represented here, and why/how we ended up in them.

I consider myself a Christian Druid. That is, a Druid that follows Christ's teachings (as a gentile, obviously, not as a person trying to be Jewish). For the sake of this discussion, I will just focus on the Druidry, as I find Christ's teachings in the gospel to be easily integrated (granted, I don't integrate much of modern Christian doctrine, however).

So how did I end up a Neo-Pagan?

While Pagan traditions are ancient, modern variations are not "stuck in time." My own Druid order fosters a self-aware reinterpretation of the ancient myths, legends, deities, and practices with an eye toward life here and now.

I think I became neo-Pagan because I am fundamentally drawn to nature in my spirituality. I experience the Earth as a being in her own self. I have always, since a young child, experienced my greatest connection to God (whom I call the Divine One) in nature and not in churches. I always had a very strong intuitive sense, and sensed spiritual entities- spirits of place, of ancestors, of trees, of animals, of other humans. I mostly tried various Protestant denominations as a kid and young adult but none spoke to my spiritual experience in nature. They spoke to my spiritual experience with Christ, but were silent or (worse yet) negative about much of how I experience the world-- and these are things I cannot turn off within myself. I can no more stop sensing spirits and energy flows (at least not without the practice in energy shielding Druidry taught me) than anyone else can stop hearing a loud noise because they wish it.

As Christianity did not adequately address my own spiritual experience, and many even were very negative against fundamental aspects of my nature, compounded with the lack of respect for nature and the earth that many churches display... I searched elsewhere. I studied Eastern traditions in college as my minor, and I began meditation and utilized some of the concepts of Zen. I most deeply connected with Taoism. I read many ethnographies of indigenous people and their shamanic traditions, and these deeply resonated with my own life experience. But at my core, I felt drawn to the land of my ancestors. I felt inexplicably drawn to the UK and to find out what could be known of my own ancestors' traditions. In doing research for teaching a class on comparative traditional religions (ancient and modern), I found modern Druidry.

I found that Christianity addresses my journey with Christ. Druidry addresses my journey with the Earth (Gaia) and the Otherworld (the realms of spirits). Essentially, I became a Druid because it addressed the experiences, gifts/abilities, practices, and beliefs I already formed on my own.

Furthermore, in an age where we are unsustainable, where we exploit our fellow human beings and our earth, in an age of profound social injustice, unrest, and inequality... Paganism and the earth-based traditions present a radically different perspective- one of simple living, of sustainability and respect for all beings, of reconnection with a web of life rather than a distance from it, of embracing one's body and life as a good thing rather than living in guilt or fear, of working toward equality and peace.

Before I found Druidry, I was often profoundly unhappy in my body, in my life. I yearned to be free from society and from my body, that I felt was a prison, a limitation. The focus in many Christian churches I tried was a focus on the afterlife, and the present was disregarded as fallen, as a trial, as something to bear until we could get to heaven. None of this helped the deep depression I often felt (and had felt my whole life) at the limitations and pain and suffering in this life. When I finally acknowledged to myself that reincarnation made much more sense to me intuitively (there's a whole back-story on that I won't get into at present), it became even more difficult-- heaven was not just years away, it was (for me at least) an impermanent place.

Druidry reconnected me with the joy of being incarnate in a body. It is a profoundly sensual and joyful, in-the-now religion. I found I could embrace even suffering as the birth-pains of a better world to come, and I am one of many midwives in this process. Rather than distance myself from life and limitation, striving for and dreaming of heaven, Druidry tells me to live fully in the now. I found peace in life, joy! Living itself became art. And I can fully embrace anything that comes after I die- reincarnation, time in the Summerlands, heaven (if there is such an eternal state of being), and so forth. I found that I could have peace and joy in whatever the Divine One brings me, because I need only foster communion with all beings to feel the deep meaning of it all.

So far as I can tell from my own practice and reading about others', Pagan traditions are communal, deeply personal, and non-authoritarian. I write my own rituals for God, I have responsibility for my own study of religion. I am empowered but also held responsible for my own spirituality. "Church" is a community of mutually and equally responsible people, rather than a group under an authority figure. This structure better fits my own experience and path.

So... very long story longer... this is why I am a Neo-Pagan and how I came to be there.

I'd love to hear how others address this question of "outmoded religion" and how/why you came to be Neo-Pagan.

Blessings,
Path
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Old 06-03-2008, 06:02 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

My partner did the BeliefNet thing and came out as Neo-Pagan which was a new term to her. Unfortunately there'll be nothing forthcoming from that direction because, although she believes in spirits, angels and God by whatever name, she doesn't believe in communing with pretend friends on forums.

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Old 06-03-2008, 06:29 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

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Originally Posted by path_of_one View Post
I felt inexplicably drawn to the UK
Yes, I would probably describe that as inexplicable also!

Nice post too.

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Old 06-03-2008, 09:05 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

I'm an eclectic Wiccan and have been practicing this particular spiritual path since my early teens -- I'm in my forties now. Here's a bit I wrote about why I follow this path that was published on Witchvox in May 2007.

***
Why I Am A Polytheist.

To me polytheism doesn’t just mean that I acknowledge more than one god or goddess. It doesn’t mean that I can’t make up my mind and dedicate myself to just one deity, either. To me polytheism is at the core of my religious philosophy, summarized in the Wiccan Rede: “An’ it harm none, do what you will.”

I grew up in a very open-minded household. My parents are both professionals -- my mother a schoolteacher, and my father an engineer. They encouraged my brothers and me to explore, learn, and make our own decisions.

We were nominally Presbyterians but as I grew older we went to church less and less. My parents go to church now as a social event. It’s usually only at Christmas as my father enjoys singing the carols.

When I was approaching my teen years my parents made it clear to me and my brothers that we were free to choose a religion as we saw fit, but that we should make that decision only after exploring the options and only if we felt we really needed to. They didn’t tell us that we had to believe in anything. They didn’t say we had to believe what they had decided to believe. It was a very mature way of raising children to be independent and strong.

My older brother was the first one to actively explore religions, eventually deciding to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons.) When he finished his first year at university, he took some time off school to go to Texas as a missionary and work with the Mormon community there. He came back after his missionary work, completed his school career, and is now a lawyer in Ottawa, Canada.

While my brother chose to explore Christian religious groups, I chose a different route. We lived on a farm; it was my dad’s dream -- and a diversion from his career as an engineer. Being around animals and the obvious cycle of nature encouraged me towards a personal faith that was nature-based. When I was a mere twelve years old I found a book called “Helping Yourself with White Witchcraft” by Al G. Manning in a local bookstore.

It provided a label for what I personally believed -- it was witchcraft.

I now realize I was different from many other kids because at the age of twelve I didn’t believe everything I read or heard. I eagerly read Manning’s book and realized that despite the cheesy presentation of the material it did provide a basis for exploring the spiritual and psychic elements of my reverence for nature. It affirmed in me a respect for Mother Earth and things that are unknown. It also strengthened my determination to think for myself and not merely accept other people’s statements just because they tell me something is so.

I started to train myself in practices such as meditation and divination. My first divination tool was a set of Popsicle sticks that I decorated with symbols meaningful to me, based on instructions in that first book. Later on I would purchase a copy of the Rider-Waite tarot deck, along with Eden Gray’s book “Mastering the Tarot, ” and explore more traditional divination methods.

Other books were quickly added to my library as my interest bloomed. Sybil Leek’s “The Complete Art of Witchcraft” became a core book in my special library. Sybil’s book introduced me to the more religious side of witchcraft. Later, I discovered Janet and Stewart Farrar’s work “A Witches’ Bible” which at that time was published in two volumes, one focusing on the sabbats and a second discussing philosophy and practice.

Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” and Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” also became favorites. I felt empowered when I realized there were many others out there who were like me, feeling a thrill as I stood under the light of a full moon or lighting a candle to the Goddess.

Perhaps it was my parents’ encouragement to explore other faiths that planted the seed of polytheism in my heart. I realized that no one faith has exclusive ownership over spiritual truth. And if a variety of different groups could simultaneously honor the Divine, it seemed reasonable that the Divine didn’t mind if we had different names for It. When I first read Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess” (reproduced in many witchcraft books as being “traditional”) my polytheism was confirmed:

“Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who was of old also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Diane, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Dana, Arianrod, Bride, and by many other names…”

It couldn’t have been any clearer to me. There was lots of room for variety.

Reading more about modern witchcraft quickly showed me that there were indeed lots of variation within the category of witchcraft. One subgroup of witches, Wiccans, was of particular interest to me. Even within Wicca there is a lot of diversity. There are Gardnerians, Alexandrians, feminist covens, covens that focus just on one specific mythology system, and a host of others. It did seem that most if not all of these subgroups within Wicca had one thing in common – a central philosophy summarized as The Wiccan Rede.

“Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An’ it harm none, do what you will.”

The Wiccan Rede, to me, is the living core of my polytheist philosophy. It contains an ideal, to do no harm, while also making it clear that it is up to us as individuals to decide how we want to act and behave. This is a philosophy for mature people. Someone who wants easy answers to everything with no thinking involved on their part would find this philosophy unsettling. It means that the individual is ultimately responsible for themselves and the consequences of their actions.

The Rede implies that we must all make choices for ourselves and that we do not have a right to impose these choices on others. I can choose to worship the Divine as Female and Male, Goddess and God, while others might choose to worship the Divine as the Great One without a specific gender.

I can worship the Goddess as Diana of the moon in one ritual, and Demeter of the abundant harvest in the next. Or I could be chosen by Brigid the Bright One as one of Her select priests, forsaking all other forms of the Goddess in my worship.

Or I might decide that my religion does not honor any deity except as a remote abstract concept, or not at all. It is my own path, one that only I can follow within my evolving faith.

Expressions of my faith might involve any number of external practices. I might choose to become involved politically to further compassion for all living things and regeneration of a healthy ecosystem. I might instead immerse myself in producing art, whether it is poetry, painting, music, or feasts that delight other senses. My devotion to the Goddesses and Gods could take the form of volunteer work. Perhaps study of the sciences or history, and attempting to contribute to further this knowledge, is my way of better understanding the world around me and my place in it.

There is no one way that is right for all people. We must each work to find the way that is right for us individually.

The idea that there is such a thing as “One True Way” or an exclusive understanding of religious truth is a very monotheistic way of thinking. It assumes that there can only be one deity, and if that is the case, then a particular path is valid only if all others by definition are invalid. This inherent conflict can easily become the central spoken or unspoken tenet of a belief structure, justifying terrorism and war against anyone who is deemed to be a nonbeliever, an infidel or heretic. Intolerant thinking like this insists that the goal of converting all who disbelieve or believe differently clearly justifies whatever means are used, often including destroying historical evidence of other ideas, ignoring basic human rights, or murder and even genocide.

Polytheism accepts that there is diversity. It does not try to place human restrictions on the Divine, by saying there can only be one, or only one name is correct when addressing the Divine. It allows individuals to dedicate themselves to none, one, or a host of deities, as no limited human conceptions of the Divine are exclusively “True” -- they are all facets of Divine expression. While monotheistic faiths by definition exclude all others, polytheism by definition can include all expressions of faith, including monotheistic ones.

As polytheists we must take responsibility for picking and choosing which elements of Divine expression we will personally honor. As an eclectic Wiccan, I choose to respect those faiths that honestly attempt to follow some form of what I know as the Wiccan Rede. It doesn’t matter if they are Wiccan or what they choose to call their core ethic. Those faiths that really try to do no harm and honor the rights of others to be treated with respect are worthy in my opinion.

Harming none is an impossible goal but one which is worth trying to attain. As followers of the eastern Jain faith practice it, attempting to harm none includes trying to avoid crushing insects underfoot, and wearing a veil over one’s mouth and nose to try and keep from inhaling and unwittingly killing microscopic life forms. Merely being alive and eating means directly or indirectly causing the death of other life forms.

We can strive to be conscious of the cycle of life. We can make decisions about whether to eat meat, wear leather, drive a polluting vehicle, and buy cosmetics that were tested on animals. We can choose to take antibiotics to kill an infecting organism in order for one’s body to be healthy again. Death is unavoidable. We are wise to be conscious of it, to celebrate life, but also to embrace death as part of the natural cycle of things.

We must make choices, form decisions, but beware of passing judgment on others who make different choices of their own. Once we start condemning others for the particular practices they perform, the names of deities they use, we are setting ourselves up as following the “One True Way.” This is in direct contradiction with the Wiccan Rede, the confirmation that “An’ it harm none, do what you will.” We can’t truly say we are free if we are denying others those same freedoms we cherish for ourselves. That includes allowing others to worship in the way they wish to worship, to honor the gods and goddesses using whatever names they want to use.

My polytheism includes working for the maximum amount of freedom for all people, regardless of their personal faith or philosophy, providing they also strive to honor some form of “golden rule” similar to the Wiccan Rede.

That is why I am a polytheist.
***
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Old 06-03-2008, 11:22 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

Great article, bgruagach.

It brought up an interesting point for me, too. I don't consider myself a polytheist in the sense of believing in a multiplicity of gods/goddesses, but I do not feel polytheism is inaccurate. I see it as you do- that the Divine manifests in multiple ways and we can either worship these separately/individually or as aspects of one Being. We can choose to see It as ungendered or as God and Goddess.

In my own practice, I ultimately view the Divine as One, but I frequently worship It as Three-in-One (trinitarian) and as duotheistic (God and Goddess).

I think it is our intent, our love for the Divine, that really matters-- not what we call Him/Her/It. So long as we do not harm others (a point I also agree with), different worship practices are, I believe, equal before the Divine. It is the love that develops for all beings that matters.

I have found this is a commonality among most Neo-Pagans, New Age, and New Thought folks I have met-- a focus on freedom, on individuality and creativity, yet a balance with a sense of community. It is an openness and tolerance, a basic respect, for the wisdom of all beings.
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Old 06-04-2008, 12:21 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

I get called a panentheist in my understanding of G!d and Christianity.

Seeing G!d in everything and the Christ potential in everyone.
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Old 06-04-2008, 08:27 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Path
Before I found Druidry, I was often profoundly unhappy in my body, in my life. I yearned to be free from society and from my body, that I felt was a prison, a limitation. The focus in many Christian churches I tried was a focus on the afterlife, and the present was disregarded as fallen, as a trial, as something to bear until we could get to heaven. None of this helped the deep depression I often felt (and had felt my whole life) at the limitations and pain and suffering in this life. When I finally acknowledged to myself that reincarnation made much more sense to me intuitively (there's a whole back-story on that I won't get into at present), it became even more difficult-- heaven was not just years away, it was (for me at least) an impermanent place.

Druidry reconnected me with the joy of being incarnate in a body. It is a profoundly sensual and joyful, in-the-now religion.
That's really inspiring!

Chris
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Old 06-04-2008, 02:48 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

Within polytheism there is a lot of variety of belief as well. There are two main categories of polytheists:

Hard polytheists, who believe that deities are individual beings and are not interchangeable (i.e. deities are not seen as manifestations of a larger Divine Being)

Soft polytheists, who believe that all gods are One God, all goddesses are One Goddess (and often the God and Goddess are two halves of the same Divine Being).

Soft polytheism is also sometimes called pantheism or panentheism. Pan means all. Pantheism means all is Divine, while panentheism means all is Divine including the invisible or transcendent levels.

Personally I'm a panentheist (soft polytheist) but I know there are plenty of Wiccans who are hard polytheists, who reject the idea that all gods are One God, all goddesses are One Goddess.
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Old 06-04-2008, 03:17 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

I learn something new every day! I guess I am a polytheist, of the soft variety. I just always called it panentheism.
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Old 06-04-2008, 03:21 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

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Originally Posted by path_of_one View Post
I learn something new every day! I guess I am a polytheist, of the soft variety. I just always called it panentheism.
When you toss softballs like that I have to head back to the morality discussions...
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Old 06-06-2008, 04:06 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

Quote:
Originally Posted by bgruagach
While monotheistic faiths by definition exclude all others, polytheism by definition can include all expressions of faith, including monotheistic ones.
nonsense. i think you're operating kind of a false dichotomy here. i don't think all "gods" are One G!D, but i do think that human beings have many different interfaces through which they access the Divine. not all are equally effective and not all are equally valid. however, it doesn't therefore follow that one is the One True Path and all others are wrong. this is only logically necessary if you believe that the tenets of your faith-interface or whatever you call it are the most optimal for all human beings at all times, thus necessitating a monolithic universalism, evangelist outlook which demands both a certain amount of chauvinism and/or conversionist programme, depending on whether you are happy or not for the "untrue" believers to be "saved" or not. you should also remember that in the original context of polytheism, monotheists were oppressed and repressed because they refused to include the "universal" practices of their day, such as bowing to statues, or worshipping the local gods as a courtesy. the persians and romans, for example, found it highly offensive that we refused to worship their rulers - from their PoV, it was bad manners. what you are describing is simply an inversion of this situation, not a tolerant society.

Quote:
The idea that there is such a thing as “One True Way” or an exclusive understanding of religious truth is a very monotheistic way of thinking. It assumes that there can only be one deity, and if that is the case, then a particular path is valid only if all others by definition are invalid. This inherent conflict can easily become the central spoken or unspoken tenet of a belief structure, justifying terrorism and war against anyone who is deemed to be a nonbeliever, an infidel or heretic. Intolerant thinking like this insists that the goal of converting all who disbelieve or believe differently clearly justifies whatever means are used, often including destroying historical evidence of other ideas, ignoring basic human rights, or murder and even genocide.
this is, by definition, quite the generalisation here. judaism is perhaps unusual amongst monotheisms in that it doesn't claim to be the Universal Truth for everybody, just the Universal Truth for jews. other people have their own Universal Truths and we all share certain other Universal Truths, such as "what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour" or "who saves one human life saves an entire world", but these [noahide laws] are generally agreed and can be shown to be the universal philosophical underpinning of all sustainable human societies on the planet, whether the society knows it or not. as for "destroying historical evidence of other ideas", i'm not making a criticism here, but sometimes neo-pagans are just as good as us Big Beardy Patriarchal Monotheists at inventing mythical golden ages on very sparse evidence indeed, as well as projecting modern concepts of utopia back onto them. gerald gardner, for instance, was hardly what you might call a historian.

Quote:
Polytheism accepts that there is diversity.
judaism accepts that there is diversity in humanity and in human interactions with the Divine. that is not the same thing at all as there being diversity in the Divine. what i believe in is by definition Infinite Unity - how i access it may be very different.

Quote:
It does not try to place human restrictions on the Divine, by saying there can only be one, or only one name is correct when addressing the Divine.
well, we certainly cannot be accused of restricting G!D to one Name alone.

Quote:
As polytheists we must take responsibility for picking and choosing which elements of Divine expression we will personally honor.
so do i as a jew - i accept that all 613 commandments are binding upon me, but i may choose to "honour" one by more stringent observance than another; for example, i may be more concerned with ethical business dealings than kashrut, or i may be more concerned with prayer and meditation than dress codes. or the other way round, or either, or neither - there is nearly infinite variety. furthermore, nobody can "compel" me to honour these things if i wish not to so do - human freewill remains paramount. however, i will still have to answer for the consequences of my choices either now or later.

Quote:
Harming none is an impossible goal but one which is worth trying to attain. As followers of the eastern Jain faith practice it, attempting to harm none includes trying to avoid crushing insects underfoot, and wearing a veil over one’s mouth and nose to try and keep from inhaling and unwittingly killing microscopic life forms. Merely being alive and eating means directly or indirectly causing the death of other life forms.
this is precisely what we would say; "ok, harm none, but what do you mean by 'harm' and 'none'?" and, hey presto, you're off into human interpretation and tradition.

Quote:
Once we start condemning others for the particular practices they perform, the names of deities they use, we are setting ourselves up as following the “One True Way.”
but that depends upon whether they "harm" anyone. as i am sure you are aware, the sort of paganism we object to is that which results in precisely what you object to: harm, coercion, violence, bloodshed and immorality. the labels which lead to this type of behaviour (names of deities) should naturally be condemned. on the other hand, if the practices *truly* harm none, then they can hardly be the things we are commanded to object to; at any rate, that's what jews are supposed to believe.

Quote:
My polytheism includes working for the maximum amount of freedom for all people, regardless of their personal faith or philosophy, providing they also strive to honor some form of “golden rule” similar to the Wiccan Rede.
the jewish question: and if your maximum amount of freedom requires the sacrifice of certain groups' liberties in the name of the greater good of the maximum amount of freedom for anything, those groups' needs should give way? voltaire would not have agreed with you - and he disliked all religion and judaism in particular.

b'shalom

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Old 06-06-2008, 05:14 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

I shall make a very gentle entry here ... not to argue that anything said so far with regard to Neo-Paganism, but rather to highlight erroneous presuppositions with regard to monotheism, and perhaps specifically Catholicism.

Quote:
To me polytheism is at the core of my religious philosophy, summarized in the Wiccan Rede: “An’ it harm none, do what you will.”
Having said all that I've said above, I don't see how the Rede relates to polytheism, so ...

Monotheism defines God (in the Western philosophical tradition) as that to which nothing can be added, nothing taken away; no augmentation, no diminution; God is Absolute, Infinite, All-Possible, without containment, without condition, without determination ... beyond being ... and so forth.

We would argue then, that there can only be one Absolute ... so here I think we'd have a semantic discussion about what comprises a 'god', as in traditional polytheisms, it seems to me the gods are not absolute, but relative and indeed contingent beings.

Catholic Monotheism also believes that a dialogue or Union with the Divine can be direct and unmediated, "that I can know even as I am known".

Many pagans have argued with me that their love of nature is their religion. My response is that I love nature, but I love more that which moves it ... its Logos, Arche, Principle, Holy Spirit, Christ, Father ... so my answer is often ... why stop where you have stopped ... why not seek beyond the veil?

Again, just a reflection.

+++

Quote:
The idea that there is such a thing as “One True Way” or an exclusive understanding of religious truth is a very monotheistic way of thinking.
Perhaps so — but that does not make it wrong, nor is it illogical nor unreasonable, quite the reverse, in fact.

Quote:
It assumes that there can only be one deity,
As you assume many ... in defining God as it does, there can only be one.

Quote:
and if that is the case, then a particular path is valid only if all others by definition are invalid.
Are all paganist paths valid then? Surely if one argues all, then you're bound to run into contradiction? In the end must you not admit that it's all relative, or subjective?

Quote:
Intolerant thinking like this insists that the goal of converting all who disbelieve or believe differently clearly justifies whatever means are used, often including destroying historical evidence of other ideas, ignoring basic human rights, or murder and even genocide.
According to the Western Esoteric Tradition, National Socialism was inspired and founded on pagan ideals, not a monotheistic vision — indeed Judaism, the Father of Monotheism — was subject to the full brunt of that perverted vision.

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This inherent conflict can easily become the central spoken or unspoken tenet of a belief structure...
There is ample evidence historically, such as that alluded to above, that paganism, given the right conditions, will allow man to exercise all the wrong things that he exercises under all and any tradition.

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While monotheistic faiths by definition exclude all others, polytheism by definition can include all expressions of faith, including monotheistic ones.
One might argue this is so because polytheism actually doesn't believe in anything other than belief itself.

And, might I add, this is not the Catholic position. We recognise the validity, and indeed the potential, of all religious endeavour.

Thomas
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Old 06-06-2008, 06:30 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

I am finding this discussion fascinating. It brings to the fore so many of the issues I wrestle with.

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Originally Posted by bananabrain View Post
nonsense. i think you're operating kind of a false dichotomy here. i don't think all "gods" are One G!D, but i do think that human beings have many different interfaces through which they access the Divine.
I wonder what to call the different interfaces? How much of our difference is having no common label to stick on what we're describing? It may be a bit arrogant (in the sense of my thinking I'm right), but I always perceived that what some interpret to be this God or that Goddess was really just a way they interfaced with the Divine One. I don't think their interfaces are invalid, but that's why I considered myself a panentheist and not a polytheist. Because I can't think that all those interfaces are the same as the Divine One (God, Spirit, whatever you'd like to call it). The interfaces, or what I've called them, manifestations are part of the One but not the same exact thing in entirety, and yet the One is never diminished. It's more like It meets us where we are. So if we are at needing a certain manifestation or several, that is where It meets us. But I don't limit It to my own experience or understanding; I recognize It is beyond me.

I think what is confusing to me is that soft polytheism seems indistinguishable from panentheism, and then why have the confusion of a new term? Is it so that hard polytheists and soft polytheists, both common in Neo-Pagan groups, feel they can more easily coexist? But at the heart of it, it does seem quite different. Belief in a real pantheon is quite distinct from belief that everyone is responding to One Divine Being, but getting that interaction in varied ways because we are each unique creations.

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not all are equally effective and not all are equally valid.
My question is always who gets to define what is maximally effective and valid? It seems like what is most effective and valid varies person to person.

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this is only logically necessary if you believe that the tenets of your faith-interface or whatever you call it are the most optimal for all human beings at all times, thus necessitating a monolithic universalism, evangelist outlook which demands both a certain amount of chauvinism and/or conversionist programme
I think many Neo-Pagans respond negatively to monotheism primarily due to right-wing fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, who generally do think their way is the only way and believe the rest are destined for hell. I've found far more acceptance of diversity among the Jewish peope I've know, who are also typically very respectful of others' belief systems and don't try to convert people. I think there is a long, built-up negative feeling among some folks for monotheistic traditions primarily due to the history of the Christian churches oppressing "different" people (i.e., The Great Commission, the forcible removable of cultural and religious traditions among First Nations in Africa and the Americas, the Inquisition, witch hunts, etc.)

I don't think that it's a product of monotheism but rather that, as you point out, ALL religions have the capacity to be used to justify heinous acts against humanity and other beings. Polytheism naturally doesn't directly lead to tolerance and peace- the historical Maya and Aztecs were definitely polytheistic and yet there were aspects of society that were quite brutal, and these were justified by religion.

The problem comes in saying "You must worship my way, and give reverance to my God(s)/Goddess(es)" not how many those deities number.

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judaism is perhaps unusual amongst monotheisms in that it doesn't claim to be the Universal Truth for everybody, just the Universal Truth for jews.
I do think this is unique to Judaism, at least in a historical sense. There are some contemporary Christians and Muslims who feel the same way, and are smaller movements within those religions, but the mainstream Christian still seems to think their religion is the only valid one.

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i'm not making a criticism here, but sometimes neo-pagans are just as good as us Big Beardy Patriarchal Monotheists
thanks for my morning laugh

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at inventing mythical golden ages on very sparse evidence indeed, as well as projecting modern concepts of utopia back onto them. gerald gardner, for instance, was hardly what you might call a historian.
I think this is partly the problem. Generally, all religions create or fabricate a "history" that is wrapped up in mythology- the message is often sound, but the details are hardly accurate on the physical plane. In Druidry, there is a distinction between the scant amount we can know from the archaeological record and historical texts, and what we feel we can know through spiritual practice. That is, we shouldn't confuse history with spiritual insight.

Many feel they have to justify their religious or spiritual practices and beliefs if they are relatively new, so they create a history that is unfounded. But this is unnecessary. If one generates stories, these may be useful for myth- for relaying a divine message. But there is no point in trying to make them "fact."

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judaism accepts that there is diversity in humanity and in human interactions with the Divine. that is not the same thing at all as there being diversity in the Divine. what i believe in is by definition Infinite Unity - how i access it may be very different.
This is what I was trying to get at. I don't think polytheism is inaccurate in the sense of being wrong, but just that it interprets the same stuff differently than monotheism. Say, you take the OT- God appears as a voice, as a burning bush, through angels in various forms, etc. The Jews see this as manifestations from One Divine Being. So do I. But perhaps another person would interpret one god in the voice, another in the bush, and so forth. It's not that it's wrong to think that way, but just not the same belief as thinking it's all diverse manifestations of the same Being. Not sure if I'm making sense there... I'm struggling a bit to put it into words.

Now you can say the former and latter are both types of polytheism, if the former is tolerant of the latter, but the fact we need qualifiers "soft" and "hard" indicates a notable difference in conceptualization of the Divine.

Seems like maybe I see too many connections, but I feel like I more or less agree with most people who see unity.

Peace,
Kim
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Old 06-06-2008, 07:15 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

Hi, Thomas- so glad you joined the conversation!

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Monotheism defines God (in the Western philosophical tradition) as that to which nothing can be added, nothing taken away; no augmentation, no diminution; God is Absolute, Infinite, All-Possible, without containment, without condition, without determination ... beyond being ... and so forth.
I'm inclined to agree, except I think this encompasses everything. Plus everything beyond everything. Seems like some monotheists think that as well (panentheist) and others think it's only the everything beyond everything that counts.

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what comprises a 'god', as in traditional polytheisms, it seems to me the gods are not absolute, but relative and indeed contingent beings.
Hence, I see them as manifestations of God. Or sometimes as misinterpreted nature spirits, angelic beings, etc. Though I fully acknowledge the latter intepretation means I think I'm right about some things and others' aren't. I don't think it's an issue that matters for the state of the soul, but rather just a misperception. I've definitely had moments of contact with spirit beings that were very powerful and might seem like gods if I had never experienced God as I had. I had one vision as a kid that was so mind-blowing and inexplicable, and so beyond expression and understanding, that it sort of became the standard to remind myself that I just am so limited and God is so huge.

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Catholic Monotheism also believes that a dialogue or Union with the Divine can be direct and unmediated, "that I can know even as I am known".
I have always been curious about the paradoxical balance in Catholicism. On the one hand, you have the saints, some of whose works I have read and many of them are mystics- deeply personally in communion with God and showing evidence of great spiritual and energetic growth in their capacity for healing, for divine revelation/vision, etc. On the other hand, the Catholic church had the Inquisition and a history of, well, killing people who were mystics and shamans. Best I can figure out is that, like most religions, at time it was used in evil ways by an elite for the purpose of controlling the population. I never quite understood all the reasons why some of the old gods and goddesses became saints and others demons, and why some of the mystics were saints and others killed or imprisoned as heretics.

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Many pagans have argued with me that their love of nature is their religion. My response is that I love nature, but I love more that which moves it ... its Logos, Arche, Principle, Holy Spirit, Christ, Father ... so my answer is often ... why stop where you have stopped ... why not seek beyond the veil?
I can only answer for me... What moves Nature is in Nature. So in loving Nature, I love God. There is no distinction for me- I don't love God "more" because God is in Nature. Loving Nature is one way for me to love God, not a separate spiritual thing that I do. Similarly, loving humanity and serving others is how I can show love to Christ. "That which you do to the least of these, you do unto me." Well, God is, ultimately, the Divine One Being who created all other beings. In serving, thanking, and loving all beings... Nature... I am able to show my love for Being Itself in a concrete way.

I think of it in terms of... hard to describe- perhaps higher and lower planes? There are few ways I can demonstrate love for God in the Transcendent sense. God at that plane does not need anything from me, for It is already whole. Certainly, I can do ritual or prayer, but Christ shows me that love is action and not merely religion. I can give God love by serving, healing, and loving the beings that are of God... God in the Immanent sense. In this way, God that is in me (Spirit) serves God that is around me in this life (the spark of divinity I see in all creation) which gives love to God that is beyond my comprehension (Transcendent, the Creator). The immanence of God serves the transcendence of God, and vice versa (through creation), in a never-ending cycle of love that is at its heart- Oneness.

Most Pagans I know work on becoming more capable of walking between the worlds, so to speak. That is, moving beyond the veil. Not only the veil between God and humanity, but also the veil between the Otherworld(s) and this one.

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Are all paganist paths valid then? Surely if one argues all, then you're bound to run into contradiction? In the end must you not admit that it's all relative, or subjective?
Of course. The rightness of any path is subjective and- I would posit- a function of the interaction of Being with individual being. What is not valid are paths that harm, that lead to disharmony. But there remains a huge number of possibilities after this point. I think there is a right path for every person at every moment. But there is no one size fits all, or even (for many) a one size fits for a lifetime. Even if we stay in one religion our whole lives, our actual path within that religion generally does (and should) change through time. As we grow spiritually, how we interpret our religion, how we interact with it, and so forth- this changes. For some, the change is too great to fit within the "norm" of the religious system they were in formerly. Or it never fit with the religious system they were born into. It's not a case of "better" or "worse" in an absolute sense, but rather functionality- what brings us closer to Love, to being a vessel for divinity.

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There is ample evidence historically, such as that alluded to above, that paganism, given the right conditions, will allow man to exercise all the wrong things that he exercises under all and any tradition.
Of course. This is what humans unfortunately do sometimes.

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One might argue this is so because polytheism actually doesn't believe in anything other than belief itself.
I would disagree. Hard polytheists belief in pantheons and it seems "soft" polytheists are panentheists, which is a distinctive way to think about God. But it is a way that refuses to define God too closely.

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We recognise the validity, and indeed the potential, of all religious endeavour.

Thomas
Then why, historically, did the Catholic church seek to convert so many Pagans?

I would put forth it was a problem of having the church tied to politics, allowing the elite to exploit religion for the sake of their own material advancement, and feel good doing so because it was "done for God."

But I question- how long and how stable has the Catholic church's stance been that all religions have validity and potential? And what kind of potential? It doesn't seem to be the mode of operations during some of the darker days of the church...
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Old 06-07-2008, 01:52 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Why Neo-Paganism?

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Many pagans have argued with me that their love of nature is their religion. My response is that I love nature, but I love more that which moves it ... its Logos, Arche, Principle, Holy Spirit, Christ, Father ... so my answer is often ... why stop where you have stopped ... why not seek beyond the veil?
Actually thats one of the reasons I left christianity for neo-Paganism. Christianity always struck me as "the god of man" while I was more interested in "the god of earth". There seems to be a central core belief that nature is for man and if we force God to choose (again?) that he will choose man over the rest of nature. That doesnt feel right to me.

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Perhaps so — but that does not make it wrong, nor is it illogical nor unreasonable, quite the reverse, in fact.
That was another part that I had trouble with. The idea that God would operate that way.

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Are all paganist paths valid then? Surely if one argues all, then you're bound to run into contradiction? In the end must you not admit that it's all relative, or subjective?
No more so than the idea that following multiple men in their actions makes one correct and the others wrong. In poly religions gods are more than man but not usually represented as infallible. You dont hae to decide that they are the unarguable correctness which makes all others wrong.
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