Paganism: One Working Answer

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This is Part Two of an attempt to answer whether or not Pagan is a useful term. Read Part One.

art by Jen Delyth

Paganism is concerned with the primacy of direct connection and relationship. Whether we are polytheists or not, whether we work magick or not, our religious or spiritual impulse comes from a place of direct communication with forces, or with Nature, or with parts of our own soul that have the ability to affect, and be affected by, the manifest world. Some of us connect through the ancestors. Some of us walk through cathedrals of trees. Some of us build lodges on the inner planes, and seek out teaching there.

Is there a better word for this sense of direct religious experience dependent on neither creed nor externally imposed belief? There may be, but I haven’t found one yet. Though I can work or talk with Muslims, Christians, or observant Jews, I feel more firmly akin to Druids or Asatruar. Though I can feel inspired by and practice with Buddhists, I am drawn to those who seek the paths of wholeness via Thelema or Solomonic Magick. Some of those whom I mention affinity with here do not use the moniker “Pagan”. What draws us all together? An emphasis on direct relationship: a sense that our lives matter deeply and we directly connect to the material and non-material planes via our own agency. What draws us together? An adherence to non-creedal systems of belief and practice. An acknowledgement that we do not hold the “one, true way.” What we practice is a way that works for the particular make up of our souls. Our souls are connected to our bodies, our bodies are connected to this earth, this earth is connected to the cosmos, the cosmos is part of some larger flow of space, time, non-space, and non-time.

What do I think is this thing that ties such diverse ways and means of practice, experience, and belief together? We all have a sense of “Divine with us on earth.” The Gods are not just far off in Asgard, they are in our gardens and our homes. Goddesses don’t just live in some distant place, they help us run our businesses, and teach our children. And these Gods and Goddesses have their own agency, too. Paganism(s) and systems of magick – as they exist in contemporary religious expression in this loosely knit group of practitioners – hold theologies of immanence in common, whether this is directly acknowledged or not. Magick would not work without direct divine connection. Rituals would be meaningless or simply psychological exercises if there was not some strong, direct sense that whatever sacred energies or forces we work with were not here with us, right now.

That is what drew me to Paganism in the first place: God was not off in some distant and transcendent place. God Herself, and individual sacred expressions such as trees, ocean, stars, this particular God or that particular Goddess… were all moving, flowing, acting, resting, and directly making up the cosmos(es) right now. And so was I. If this was not the case, our magic would be simple begging and supplication. Instead, our magick, for those of us that do it, becomes a way to help create the world. Those of us who don’t do operative magick celebrate the realization that this sacred expression is with us every day. And for this, we give thanks: we dance around Maypoles, we raise horns of wine and beer in honor, we light candles to draw us deeper into contemplation, we make love as a way to draw closer to our Gods, knowing that often our Gods are as close as the breath of our lovers.

Some of us are polytheists, in relationship with this God to help with business, and that Goddess to give us courage in dire times, and others, we just honor, because we are called to, or we are poets, or mechanics, or simply mad with love. Within that deep, direct connection to these individual forces, is the trickling flow of immanence, of a sense that there was a void from which all came, or a process within which all things can be.

Still others are non-deists or agnostic. But even those who believe this is all contained within the vastness of our psyches enact things with our alembics, or conjure with our wands. We sit in contemplation and behold, yes, divinity draws closer and it sets our heads on fire. That too, is immanence. We ourselves become enlivened and divine.

We are Pagan, with direct contact with the living energy of the cosmos and this earth. We are Pagan. We walk with our Gods. We are Pagan. We make magick manifest in all the realms. We are Pagan. Sacred flow moves with us now.

We are Pagan because that was a name first given to those who were not of the civic religion, those who practiced their own ways. We are autonomous. That makes us, at the very least, pagan, if not Pagan.

And some of us will disagree.

32 Responses to “Paganism: One Working Answer”

  1. Michelle

    I love this! It is a beautiful explanation of what it means to be Pagan. It coincides flawlessly with what being Pagan means to me and my family. Thank you! BB

    Reply
  2. Ealasaid

    I love these two essays, they’re very thought-provoking. To me, “Pagan” is a term with something like a checklist attached, but you don’t have to have checkmarks next to every item to be a Pagan, just … say, most of the items? I don’t think there’s any one thing you MUST be/think/do/believe to be pagan or one thing you must NOT be/think/do/believe.

    It’d be interesting to see if we could draw up a list and see how many checkmarks people think you have to have to be Pagan. My list would be something like:

    believes in immanent divinity;
    practices magic (ceremonial or otherwise);
    is a polytheist of some stripe;
    doesn’t subscribe to salvation theology;
    is engaged in some sort of self-development (Knowledge and Conversation, self-possession, etc);
    studies some sort of occult system (e.g. Qabalah).

    That’s six things, if I’m counting right, and anybody who subscribes to say, three or more is pretty Pagan in my book (though I suppose that would make some mystic Christians count as Pagan, and that’s always a controversial topic, no?).

    Reply
  3. Thorn

    Libramoon, post away! Thank you.

    Ealasaid, I like the addition of no salvation theology.

    And Scott and Lady Jake, Prof Jennifer Rycenga of San Jose State University once called me an Immanentist!

    Reply
  4. CrowsFoxes

    Thorn, beautifully said!

    Yes, my Goddess is immanent,not transcendent.

    And no one needs “saved” — I don’t subcribe to the theory that we are flawed and need redeemed — we are instead blessed and need to remember our original beauty.

    Reply
  5. Durk Simmons

    I’ve always found it interesting that we can ascribe such strong thoughts and emotions to the way we organize some symbols on a page. Least we forget that over time we can change the ‘meaning’ of any word we use often enough. Despite the fact that I’m a writer, I try to keep the huge ideology concepts simple.
    I think you nailed it in this one sentence: “We are Pagan, with direct contact with the living energy of the cosmos and this earth.” That’s the way I look it. We, as Pagans have our energy focused on the ground that we step upon, the actual provider, not a ‘faith based’ ideology invented to control behavior. I wrote a poem contrasting Paganism and some organized religions. I’ll understand if you don’t post it.
    Praise be! Praise Be!
    The guiding light, has been shown to me!
    I walked alone, confused and despaired,
    I needed a sign that someone was there.
    I walked in a Church to see who would care,
    And found a collection plate thrust toward me, bare.
    I walked by the Synagogue, in there to explore,
    But wasn’t a chosen one- they showed me the door.
    The temple was next, the Witness’ lair
    But Jehovah’s folks scared me, too much hell there!
    Then I stopped, and I looked, and saw all that I need
    The flowers, the grasses, the dirt, and the TREES!
    I needed no building, no huge set of rules
    I know what I want to believe to be true,
    We are not pawns in a game up above,
    There’s no score-card at the end, for a One God to judge.
    We live in a heaven or hell of our choosing,
    Right here and right now, choose! Are You Winning or loosing?
    The Sky and the Earth are what makes me happy!
    Not a group that will judge me and think me too wacky
    Feeling the Mother Earth, cupping my soul
    The Sky Father balancing, completing the hold.
    And it Harm None, do what Tho Wilt
    The only refrain you need till you’re kilt.

    Reply
  6. Ian Phanes

    In your previous post, you talk about the centrality of non-dualism in your spirituality. In this post, you claim immanence and reject transcendence. To me, that sounds like just another form of dualism.

    In ContraryWise Craft, we are challenged to incorporate both immanence and transcendence. I sometimes use the pentagram to represent the immanent divine and the circle around it to represent the transcendent divine.

    I find this especially ironic coming from you, since your title “Kissing the Limitless” describes my understanding of transcendent spiritually so beautifully.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Thanks to everyone for the gorgeous and thoughtful responses. Lynn, Michael York is also firm about not capitalizing pagan – you are not alone in this.

      Ian, for me, there is simply nothing that does transcend – everything is included in the non-dual flow – which does not mean that some things are not so vast and limitless that they can feel transcendent to me on earth. But in my experience, nothing is beyond the fabric of All. I certainly don’t expect all pagans/Pagans to agree with me on this one!

      That said, I’ve written a great deal about the importance of dualism as a teacher for us, and a way to make sense of the world, but again, for me, duality and polarity are still part of a larger fabric/non-fabric, void/process/presence.

      And language is a difficult way to explain vast/deep experience. Kind of like trying to exactly talk about the way dark chocolate tastes as it melts on your tongue.

      Reply
  7. Savagemarx

    Thorn:

    Thank you so much. I have recently been struggling with my the identifier (Neo-)Pagan in relation to the diversity of Pagan “movement”. I find that there are many more Pagans that I do *not* identify with than those that I do I identify with. When I call myself Pagan, what am I saying about my relationship with those to whom I do not relate? And yet, there is no other group that I relate to better and no other name that I have found that expresses my spiritual quest better. It is tempting to believe that what ties us together is that we don’t relate to anyone else. But your essay has reminded me of that core that ties us together: “direct connection and relationship”. Your words: “Our souls are connected to our bodies, our bodies are connected to this earth, this earth is connected to the cosmos, …” These beautiful words could be a liturgy or a catechism if ours were a creedal religion.

    Reply
  8. Pitch313

    Direct–Yes!

    One tricksy thing about “direct” is that it may not tally the shortest distance or follow the offered path. We may have to go the long way around and bushwhack through uncharted terrain in order to get where we gotta go–directly!

    Reply
  9. Thaniel

    Thanks for saying much that’s been on my mind. People don’t *get* that it’s not just a matter of different gods. I have struggled to convey to outsiders that our deities are not in some far-off place, but here WITH us on the sacred land. We don’t walk with “God’s creations,” but with the actual Gods & Goddesses. I shall quote you–properly credited of course!–in my ongoing efforts to explain. Blessings on you!

    Reply
  10. Reverend Scuirus

    I found your essay to be enjoyable and interesting. But, tell me more, about your quote:

    “…Though I can feel inspired by and practice with Buddhists, I am drawn to those who seek the paths of wholeness via Thelema or Solomonic Magick.”

    As someone who is involved with the Western occult/Pagan community, but also follows an Eastern path that is part of my culture, I feel that Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism…. etc… are certainly just as Pagan as Thelema or Solomonic Magick. They espouse holistic spirituality, reject the idea of original sin, and have a sense of “Divine with us on earth”. I’d say that’s quite Pagan!

    In the West, the adepts are Magi, Runemasters, Druids and Witches. In the East, they are Yogis, Buddhas, Luohans (Chinese term for Adeptus Major) and Immortals. If they got together, I feel that they would have plenty to talk about :)

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Good thoughts Reverend! Taoism is particularly similar to much of my thinking. And to a dear Buddhist friend, I often say “You say Nothing, I say All!”

      Many of them, however, are strictly non-Deist, if not A-theist. That is what I was referencing. And some – not all, of course – in talking about the world as illusion can espouse transcendence of this earth rather than ‘Divine with us on earth’.

      Reply
  11. William Hood

    You know, I went into these articles coming from the other “side” of this debate and expecting to take exception and disagree more than I did. Very insightful post that has given me much to consider, even if I don’t end up agreeing 100% But hey, maybe I will. It happens. :-)

    Reply
    • Thorn

      William, thanks for stopping by! Disagreement is great, and I am also glad you found some things to think on, too. Blessings.

      Reply
  12. Kirsta

    Eloquent as always. I find myself directing people to your blog, knowing that, even if they don’t agree, they will always find something to contemplate.

    In fact, may I plug you on my blog?

    Blessings.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Kirsta, thank you. I always appreciate mentions by people – especially when the words are positive!

      blessings to you.

      Reply
  13. thalassa

    Ealasaid hit the nail on the head I think, with the checklist approach. Its called a polytheitic definition or classification–both cancer and games come to mind on that one (seriously, think about it…what do monopoly, freeze tag and mah jong *really* have in common? …about as much as Wicca and Asatru?).

    A couple years ago (the last time this debate made the rounds perhaps?), I ranted in my blog on this particular topic, and came up with a surprisingly similar checklist:
    Connection to pre-Christian pagan religions, either thru reconstruction, revival or loose inspiration
    Earth-centered or nature-based spirituality (this is not synonomous with earth worship, but rather a recognization of the importance of earth’s natural rhythms and cycles, the spirits of place, etc)
    Pluralistic view of Diety
    Interconnectivity of the cosmos
    Importance of Ritual
    Use of Magic
    Acknowledgement of personal truth as valid (as opposed to the idea that there is a “one true” way)
    Celebration of Humanity (as opposed to condemnation of human nature)
    Emphasis on personal responsibility (via ideals such as honor, justice, etc)

    Reply
  14. Chicago Pagan Pride | The Allergic Pagan

    […] 7.  Neopagans don’t have a concept of a fall.  For Neopagans, the primary experience of divinity is one of connection, not alienation — connection to divinity, to earth, and to one another.  T. Thorn Coyle has argued that this distinction is at the core of what makes us Pagan. […]

    Reply

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