Queer I Stand
Bringing Back the Gods
But in any case, the limitation of the definition of theos in this instance is of some concern to me. It ends up sounding like a way to avoid alienating potentially hostile listeners; and, for me, it does so at the expense of truth. If there is one area of my life in which I attempt to be as truthful as possible, when talking to either insiders or outsiders, it's in religion. Thus, the phrase "the Divine" does not serve to accurately convey what it is that I worship, or with whom I wish to cultivate a relationship.
Pagan or polytheist practice that emphasizes cultus presupposes a definite being with volition and consciousness on the other end of the interaction. (Cultus, for the present purpose, is active and deliberate interaction with divine beings.) Thus, when I hear Pagans being described or self-defining as "nature worshippers," I wonder how interaction can take place at all. "Nature" doesn't care if you make offerings, hold festivals, or sing its praises and dance and feast with your friends. Dancing at Lughnasadh will not avert global warming; singing a hymn won't stop an earthquake; pouring a libation won't prevent it from raining. The best way to "honor" nature is to do things like recycle, not drive, reduce one's carbon footprint, and so forth.
But, if one (for good or ill, depending on who one asks) personifies nature to some extent as genii loci, land wights, and other spirits of nature and place, then one can usefully interact with these things even if it still might rain, have earthquakes, or get warmer. The more ecologically-conscious one's religiosity is, the more scientifically-informed it tends to be; and if that's the case, then the utter irrelevance of "nature worship" in any cultic fashion should become all the more obvious. Nature—and the wider cosmos more generally, with its colliding asteroids and exploding stars—is utterly indifferent to human existence at this stage, and likely will be so forever.
At the Between the Worlds gathering in Delaware in December of 2012, a panel on "The Turning of the Ages: What to Keep, What to Throw Away, and How to Decide" (available in a podcast here) featured several modern Pagan luminaries. Yet, in the course of the almost-two-hour discussion, the only person who emphasized the gods was Sam Webster (and even then, only at length in the last quarter of the discussion). The reality of the gods and our worship of them, I think, should be a major priority of "what to keep" in the turning of this age or any other! I realize that there are, as John Halstead has pointed out, many recognized (or, perhaps more accurately, observed) centers of modern Paganism, of which "deity-centered" is only one. From the looks of it, it is a relatively small center at that.
The ancient peoples who were called "Pagan" by the Christians, and who were persecuted and even killed for being such, did not "worship nature." They worshipped the gods who were perceived to have power over nature; and while they would have seen their practices as essential to communal good relations, the good of their communities was impossible without the goodwill of the gods. (The notion of "self" in the ancient world would have been almost entirely irrelevant to their understanding of religious practice, from what I understand. Buddhism is one of the few religions to make self important in its philosophy and practice, and in doing so it mainly says, "The self doesn't really exist anyway"!) The exemplars of philosophy and practice that many modern Pagans base their practices on all worshipped the gods. Without the gods and their efforts to worship and honor them, a great deal of those cultures' art, music, literature, and architecture would not have existed.
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.