Family ties and growing pains
by Jack Maurice Lesage
“We are not only One; we are also everything at Once.”
I think one of the main problems with definitions of Paganism, is that most tend to say what Paganism is not, rather than concentrating on what Paganism is. This may be a reason why so many non-Pagans and even Pagans are under the impression that everything and anything goes.
Pagans should not see themselves as those who have merely excluded themselves from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic group of religions, but as those who have embraced very specific other beliefs. These beliefs include the concept that there is a specific spiritual reality that we can connect into, even harness.
But being Pagan is not about being safe, is not about being the same. Paganism as a whole has no liturgy, no overarching ethics, overarching meaning. Pagans, like all other religious people, come in every ethnic group, every political creed and every possible combination of personality types. And because of this, it is a regular quagmire when it comes to identifying what is Paganism. While some labels are self-explanatory others can cause confusion and contention. Much of this is attributed to misinformation, interpretation of history and, more often than not, personal opinion.
At first glance, one would assume that Pagans practice polytheism, end of story. This is not necessarily the case. The heterogeneous nature of Paganism allows for all spiritual attitudes towards divinity – add to this the extensive list of philosophical outlooks and lifestyles, and the permutations are endless. A better way of viewing Paganism is that it is “poly-theological”.
Here is a sampling of a few relational attitudes:
New Polytheism – The deities are just Jungian archetypes created by human need. The deities are but symbols.
Polytheism – The idea of polytheism is grounded in the view that reality (divine or otherwise) is multiple and diverse. And if one is a pantheist-polytheist, as are may Neo-Pagans, one might say that all nature is divinity and manifests itself in myriad forms and delightful complexities (Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon). This personification is known as anthropomorphism.
Pan-polytheism – Deity in many different aspects, both male and female. These different aspects of Deity each represent different aspects of life, nature and the seasons. The idea that these aspects of Deity are separate from each other is called polytheism (many Gods). The idea that these aspects are part of a larger whole (often called the unmanifest and sometimes God) is called pan-polytheism. (Henge of Keltria, a Druidic organisation)
Duotheism – The polarity of natural forces are expressed in the deities, often a masculine—feminine structure. However, they do not necessarily always represent opposites; they can indicate harmony and balance.
Pantheism – The belief that the entire universe is a divine spiritual unity, and humans are a part of this divine universe.
Agnostic Pantheism – The universe is revered but not from transcendental divine aspect. This is often equated to Scientific Pantheism.
Animism – All things in nature have a distinct spirit and when this extends to inanimate matter, it is called Hylozoism.
Identifying what it is to be Pagan is important but no matter how careful and how all-inclusive such a process is, we must also accept that this cannot be static and will have to be adapted from time to time, or we may face a form of self-imposed marginality.
I think what we cannot ignore is the fact that Paganism is evolving, and will always be due to our individualism, and although Paganism is based on ancient belief-systems we cannot deny the simple reality that we are also living in the 21st century – as with all things new times bring about change.
As I see it, the importance of Paganism is about linking to a past set of values, beliefs and deities long forgotten, and experiencing these values, religions, spirituality, deities and even magick in a modern context as contemporary believers.
I am totally aware that adapting ancient faiths to modern contexts is a challenge, as many practices and social beliefs of our ancestors do not translate well into modern society – sexism, slavery, and human sacrifice being good examples of those, for instance. But Paganism is a modern attempt to find a way to cope with diversity by accepting diversity and pluralism rather than by trying to exterminate it in the attempt to create a vast, cosmic and homogeneous one. Our spirituality and religion is one of modern-day manifestations of ancient pagan practices.
In Paganism traditions are often centred on a particular culture and/or folkloric practice. The majority of the Pagan traditions focus on those ancient cultures that were displaced by the Abrahamic religions. However, traditions based on other indigenous cultures such as Eastern, Native America and African are becoming popular.
Despite the differing beliefs and practices among the traditions, there are some common identifiable aspects to Paganism:
Individualism: Emphasis is placed on the return to the simpler direct relationship between the individual and their divine.
Non-dogmatic: There is no sacred book, tenet or doctrine. Within each tradition, there may exist a writ of their beliefs and tenets but this is not a universal dogma.
Humanism: Focus is on reconnecting with life.
Spiritual anarchism: There is no reward or punishment just consequences. The individual is accountable for his/her actions. This is not to say there is no socially accepted concept of “right” and “wrong”.
Nature: Nature plays an important role albeit in varying degrees from sacred worship to harmonious interaction.
Energy: A concept of an unseen “energy” is prevalent throughout Paganism. However, its utilisation varies among the paths. This energy is primarily used for empowerment, self-realisation and magick. Additionally, it may be viewed holistically as a singular divine entity. It has various names: the power, primal force, cosmic energy, universal force, life force, aura, spirit, manna, etc.
Satanism and Paganism
Pagans see tend to see Satan or the Devil, in the sense generally used, as a Christian paradox, parody or heresy where the Devil as the anti-Christ is purely a Christian concept. But it is not that simple.
Far from being mere inverse Christians, many theistic Satanists are either polytheistic or pantheistic. Some equate Satan with one or more ancient gods such as Set, Enki, Pan, Loki, Shiva, the Yoruba gods, etc. Others do not equate Satan with any Pagan deity but just revere Satan as one of many gods from various pantheons. There are also some who do not believe in Satan as an entity at all, but who identify as Satanists because they agree with the teachings of Anton LaVey. So to many within Satanism, whether we like it or not, Satanism is post-Christian and although not Pagan, it is seen by many of its adherents as being pagan.
However, it is also correct to say, more generally, that the idea of Satan is derived from Judaism and Christianity, whereas Pagans aim to revive more ancient religious concepts. But this statement by itself does not exclude all Satanists from the category pagan because many theistic Satanists also revere one or more anciently-worshipped pagan deities/demons in addition to Satan.
Reality, however, is that the Pagan community espouses some very specific beliefs and values that are totally different if not alien from the beliefs and values espoused by most Satanists.
There is little doubt in my mind that although Paganism and Satanism may share some early-to-mid-20th century historical connections, we have developed separately and are now indeed distinct. To Pagans Satan is not part of our pantheons as either a literal deity or a symbol. It would also be accurate to say that the idea of Satan is derived from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions (NOT the same thing as saying that Satanism itself is part of those religions), whereas Pagans aim to revive ancient religious and spiritual concepts.
As I understand the term Pagan, it does not include any religion, spirituality, or worldview which honours, reveres, or otherwise favourably uses the name Satan or the Devil (or any name linked to the principle of evil), in whatever way those names are understood, whether as referring to a sentient entity, a force, a symbol and/or a lifestyle. A very explicit definition of our spirituality and religion could make this even clearer.
Here is my attempt to such a definition: “Paganism is a non-dogmatic affirmation of all non-coercive religious and spiritual paths and folkways which revere the sacredness of earth and of all life, the immanence of divinity, recognise the duality in all things and promote individualism and human rights.”
I think something in this vein could make it very clear that Paganism is NOT all-embracing.
South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) www.paganrightsalliance.org