Do not misunderstand me: I am not against religiosity that focuses upon (in Halstead's reckoning) nature, self, or community. Indeed, I think the more that one is able to encompass all of these things in one's religiosity, the better off one will be. But leaving the gods out of the picture of self, nature, or community is a very bad idea. And, I think that any definition of "Paganism" that tries to make the gods less important, irrelevant, or anomalous is entirely wrong. Understanding "deity-centered" religiosity as creedal in nature is, likewise, flawed, but I hope to treat that subject in a future installment of this column.

So, I return to the line from which I began. Modern Paganism should not have, as one of its major goals, a self-presentation defined by "nature worship." It should not characterize itself primarily as "honoring the Divine," for what major religion doesn't do that in some form or another? Instead, a major goal for modern Paganism should be the active attempt to return the existence of the gods as real, volitional, and individual beings to the wider human consciousness. By this, I mean the gods should be understood as beings with whom one can choose to interact and cultivate relationships.

One can cultivate such relationships for their own sake, not unlike any friendship one might have amongst humans, as well as for what benefits doing so can create for a given person. Doing so can improve the practitioner's ability to function in the world in relation to the human community, amongst whom the presence of the gods can often be found in various ways. Doing so can also improve devotees' relationship to the world of nature: through relationships with divine beings such as the gods and the land, they can better come to terms with the reality of the cosmos' overarching indifference. Finally, doing so can also improve the relational dynamics within one's own internal realities of self (a realm in which, more often than not, one's ancestors are a divine force that guides or influences).

Modern Paganism can only benefit from bringing back the gods, especially if Pagans better understand why they need to do so. Perhaps then the goal of bringing back the gods will not be hidden away as a source of potential conflict, but rather celebrated as a good and wonderful thing, something praiseworthy and deeply important.