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.