Recently on the Wild Hunt Blog Teo Bishop posted an entry positing the question – What is your Pagan Theology? I will endeavour to summarise my views and perspectives below.
The initial response I have to the question is another question – Is my Theology essentially or specifically Pagan?
Drawing from earlier etymological derivations (i.e. Gr. pagus meaning ‘region/area’) than usually explored (i.e. Latin paganus referring to a ‘rustic’ or ‘country-dweller’), I obtain a definition of contemporary Pagan sensibilities as being Place-centred and aligned. This is necessarily far more important to me as the essence of a definition than referring to the non-Abrahamic traditions or qualifying contemporary (and past) Paganisms as drawing upon the inspirational and historical influence of Europe and the Near East and these diasporas, culturally (e.g. literature, mythology, etc.) and ethnically (groups of people migrating). Is my Pagan Theology Place-centred? This brings me to one of the overarching elements of my theological understandings and perspectives – Story.
One of the most wounded parts of the Western collective psyche is the place where Story used to thrive and flourish – where it used to be revered and honoured. What I mean by Story (and I intend the capitalisation) is the narratives (which are fluid and fixed simultaneously) which infuse raw relationships. Indeed to ‘re-Story’ our cultures is, ideally, not to impose something alien on to something innate and happening, but to draw out from the raw immediacy of Being a potent and living Story (equally, infinite Stories) which is the original wellspring from which we arrive. When we possess Story, and are moved by Story, and are given to Story, theological nuances and particularities are secondary to profound presence, engagement with the Mysterious/Divine/Numinous/Sacred, and the synergy of relationships. In fact, the concept of ‘the Sacred’ as something which draws out from ‘the rest’ and is exalted above all becomes an estranging concept – all is the Sacred, the word, the concept, is not needed. Theology refers to Deity, to these beings that human cultures refer to as ‘Gods and Goddesses’. Indeed it (the term) presupposes quite a lot about the human condition and its invested interests.
If we study the historical and continuing mythologies of the diversity of human cultures we begin to discover a telling pattern. Those ‘Great Spirits’ referred to as something more important, significant, and pronounced in the anchoring/qualifying cosmologies are often Spirits who ennoble human cultures. What I mean by this is that they are bringers of cultural ingenuity to the human race. Indeed this makes it quite understandable why we might consider such beings to be deified ancestors who have been naturally or magically syncretised with a powerful Spirit of Place, and perhaps also a titanic/giant force, to become the convergence of Story-Power necessarily required to take on the mantle of and manifest as a God/dess. (I will now use the gender-neutral or gender-full term ‘God’ for the rest of this essay)
It may be quite obvious that I feel, or am of the opinion, that there are beings/spirits identifiable as Gods that do in fact exist in the Eternal Cosmos. This would be an accurate interpretation of the subtext to what I have written. However, if the question is, do I believe in the existence of Gods, I would respond that it doesn’t matter whether I do or not, I will engage with Them anyway. This engagement with Them presupposes that I experience Them in my life – this is true. I also engage with, interact, and have encounters with spirits and beings not classed as deity by human cultures or condition(s).
Am I hard polytheist or a soft polytheist? This question also has little relevance to me these days. I am a Mystic, Sorcerer and Priest – I am a Shaman and Witch. What does that mean for my relationships with the Spirits? It means, in my experience, that theological understandings and debates are of little relevance to these relationships. Philosophical debate and discussion can lead to profound insight and hilarity, and yet it rests on an assumption (for many) that the philosophical process or even interrogation ultimately represents the whole picture (trademarking may be involved), when in fact, it is an unfolding process which does not end in absolutes (I know I am philosophising). Do I prefer the ‘aims’ of philosophy over theology? Potentially. Probably.
Am I an atheist? It would be hard to reconcile this term with how I interact with the infinite Spirits/Forces/Beings/Powers in the Eternal Cosmos. God is a place-holder word for me to refer to any and all experience of intimacy with ‘the Divine’. When I use the word ‘Divine’ I am placing an emphasis on the nature of Being and my reflections of and engagement with the Expressions of Being as innately and verifiably sacred, and therefore of meaning beyond measure and value beyond commodity.
Am I a pantheist? I take that term quite literally – YES! All is God, and the All is populated by/with Gods and Spirits, etc.
Am I an animist? YES! All possesses Vital Force whose quality is consciousness. Consciousness to me is Mysterious, and I will not attempt to define it beyond that.
Am I a panentheist? I find this a distracting and unnecessary theological term. I dislike and sometimes abhor the dichotomy of immanence and transcendence that some theology plays with. If the Here and Now is the Divine (immanent) then where and when is not the Here and Now? If I use the term ‘transcendent’ I wonder “transcending what?” and I might also qualify this by saying, “transcending into further immanence.”
What of Archetypes? Grand, universal patterns/motifs (possessing great power) which stimulate or lay within the collective human consciousness and enrich our experience of Being. Surely the Powers and Spirits may ride these avenues as access-ways to the human spirit and condition. Potentially they are all extensions or manifestations of each other. Generally-speaking, I feel it is true to say that human beings are predisposed to wondering about the Divine and being receptive to engagement with Deity and the Spirits. Perhaps what Jungian psychologists and many in the contemporary Pagan movement have called ‘archetypes’ are in fact places of great convergence and resonance in the breadth and depth of Story and Narrative. Perhaps these are the ‘Houses’ I refer to at times with Poetry. Perhaps Aphrodite, Ishtar, Kama and Freyja all live in the ‘House of (Planetary) Venus’; perhaps They all have Their Own chambers in which Their cults thrive and in which we ‘arrive at’ through invocation? What if I invoked the whole House for a sorcerous working? Hm…
What of the nature of the Gods themselves, other than in relationship to humans and ennobling our cultures like Athene with the olive tree to the then Athenians, or Lugh, the multi-talented one, who brought skill and honour to the People of Eriu/Ireland?
I have found spirit-work and my relationships with and indeed devotion, dedication and priesthood with and to certain deities, to be filled with mystery and challenge. I have discovered that sometimes what I have found to be the pattern in my observance of a God’s nature completely contradicts itself and the self-aware consciousness of the being reasserts its Sovereignty/Authority with me in a completely different way than previously experienced. I have had experiences in which for many years I had interacted with a specific deity in ways that presumed the anchored essence of identity to be sure and certain, and then discovered that the deity is indeed that deity over there, at least right now, or maybe something else of its deep nature is being revealed. I find that I encounter infinitely-deepening layers of reality when it comes to the Mysterious Ones. (http://wearewalkinginbeauty.org/Walking_in_Beauty/A_Few_Working_Definitions.html)
What I ask of myself in all of this engaged exploration is humility and honour. I’d love to discover or coin a term that possessed the qualities and also synergy of ‘humility’ and ‘honour’ so that I could adequately express what I mean by this. Am I monist? Do I experience that the All is ‘All is God’ and God is the immutable, all-pervasive Spirit which dwells in All Things? Again, the assertion that philosophically there is a distinction between ‘the Spirit that dwells in All Things’ and ‘All Things possess a Spirit’ does not bear water for me. I sometimes name God Hirself as Grandmother Weaver, as in my WildWood and Anderean Traditions. I sometimes find it important to politically and socially propound feminine pronouns in order to confuse, disorient and shock the massively patriarchal over-culture into remembering and revisioning what the Infinity of God has been, can be and could be. Do I believe anything so powerfully that it is unshakeable. No, I do not. Or maybe not? I value my experiences and my presence in them. I value the Immense Love I feel which is the taste of Mystery in my Life. Let us talk about (and hopefully with!) the Gods and Spirits, yes; I also like dancing and drinking with Them!
So, is my Theology Pagan? Is it Place-centred? I am Here and I am Now, and there are intense peculiarities in the Place I am in, as I am sure is true of the Place You are in. I start Here and Now in every reflection of consciousness, in every shift of awareness. We are all arriving, all the time. The Altar is Here. The Circle is Ever. The Gods who are with me are with me. We wander and wonder and the Story weaves on.
God/s Bless You.
*http://wildhunt.org/2013/04/crowdsourcing-pagan-theology.html (the original Wild Hunt entry by Teo Bishop).