This is a multi-part discussion on families, Family Covens and covens: what makes them different, what makes the similar and what makes them stick. Read Part One here.
By the Power Vested in Me
In traditions and covens, there is an implicit green light given to teachers, priests and priestess. When someone is married the traditional words spoken at the end of the ceremony are, “By the power vested in me, I pronounce you husband and wife.”[i]
Judges often add, “By the power vested in me by the state of _______.” Why? Because this statement sums up the place ministers, pagan elders, pagan leaders, spiritual teachers sit… in power. Judges draw their power through the state or federal government. Ministers do not.
In this paradigm, there is only ONE POWER. It resides outside of humankind.
When I was a Christian, the meaning of this statement was clear. Power was always capitalized. Power in Christianity is clearly translated into Holy Spirit – God – Jesus Christ. The minister was saying, “Not by my power, but by The Power, are you declared married.”
Christian ministers in many, but not all, cases know where their power comes from or should come from. They spend time in seminary. They are taught that The Power has called them to the ministry. The Power has directed them to go to seminary. The Power is what ultimately ordains them into ministry. The Power, through the church or denomination, polices the minister to ensure he doesn’t hurt the flock. Even if they have no seminary, pastors are expected to spend time “in the word” or in daily reading of The Bible. Time in prayer is a given. Prayer to The Power who ordains them.
The argument can be easily made that this is not the case for all ministers. However, what should not be overlooked here is this. Christianity raises its congregations to believe that all ministers are called by The Power. All ministers are ordained by The Power. The Power is ultimately working and living through the men and few women that The Power ordains. This leaves Christianity with a clear sense of hierarchy.
“Of course, The Power calls ministers because The Power never called me to be a minister,” masses of Christians are taught. The Catholic Church by which all Christian religions have been influenced has set apart their ministers. There is an entire process to determine whether or not you have been called. There is an entire process to go through to become a priest or nun. There is even a process to go through to stop being a priest or nun.
Generations upon generations of Christians have all bought into a single premise. There is only ONE Power – God. That power is manifested through His Scripture and/or His Church and/or his Saints/Popes/Prophets and/or his ministers/priests/teachers. In truth, the manifestation part is not relevant: how The Power manifests is a debate for theologians. The part that is important is: There is only ONE POWER.
Through that Power, everything else happens. Ministers are ordained. Ministers are permitted to minister and God or the denomination or some combination of the two take out bad ministers.
I was personally able to shed Christianity because of the Presbyterian Church of America’s own Larger Catechism.
Question 7. What is God?
Answer. God is a Spirit, in and of himself, infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection, all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipresence, omnipotent, omniscient.
This was the first time in Christianity that the idea of many powers occurred to me. If God is everywhere present, then God is in all religions. Unfortunately for my pastor, he really didn’t have a good argument to counter this claim. If you say God isn’t in Hinduism, then God is not omnipresent. If you say God isn’t in Catholics, then God is not omnipotent.[ii]
This is where I began to part ways with Christianity. For a rebellious teenager, the idea that God was limited by not being permitted to be part of other religions was, in essence, illogical. Therefore, God, for me became the greatest marketing person ever. He found a way to be part of all cultures through those cultures’ religions. God could only be omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient if God was indeed in all those place, religions, people and cultures. Additionally, being everywhere, then God was in everyone. Therefore, hating someone for any reason was to hate God.
If God wasn’t in all places and all people, then I didn’t have to believe in God.
Be clear, I have always believed in God, because I have believed since I was in kindergarten that The Power had called me to ministry. Other girls played school and house, I played preacher. Seeking the essence of God and his calling to me was part of the very fiber of my being since I was a child.
The Power of Paganism Lies with Many Powers
There can be a sense of relief for pagans when they enter the Craft of the Wise. We are freed from the burden of ONE POWER. Suddenly a world of many powers and divine influences is available. The world order isn’t resting in the hands of some unseen god, it is resting in the order of the universe, a sometimes predictable and nearly always explainable place. People don’t die because god is mad. They die because people die. The Earth herself is a strong power equal to and not overshadowed by other goddesses and gods. All have their sphere of influence. All have their ways of reaching out and explaining a truly infinite Divine to mere mortals.
Not only is there a Divine power outside ourselves, there is Divine power within.
“Thou art god, I am god. All that groks is god” may have found general acceptance through Robert Heinlein’s fictional book Stranger in a Strange Land. However, it has become a tenant of The Craft. We pagans do not need intercessors. There is no need for a church, Pope, Saint, priests – anyone. We need only ourselves and a willingness to seek the Divine within us.
As Joseph Campbell so eloquently put it, ““The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe to match your nature with Nature.”
When I came to paganism the idea that there were many powers and influences simply jived with my own personal theology. I was and have always been a mono-polytheist. I believe in ONE POWER sourced out to many through many different avenues. Ultimately, however, I have never parted ways with my Christian roots. There is still, for me, ONE POWER.
Not all pagans agree with this theology.
The Problem with Paganism Lies with Many Powers
“I don’t know what goddess you believe in, but my goddess can kick your ass any day!”
Yes, I really said this to a High Priestess. She was trying to manipulate me by saying that in the world of the Craft I needed her protection because I was a neophyte. Basically, the boogieman would get me if I didn’t have someone to protect me — of course, specifically, HER to protect me.
The reasoning was that when it comes to juggling all these powers, only someone who is well versed in them could actually combat psychic attack or other spiritual landmines. As a neophyte, I hadn’t had the time to compile personal relationships with all these powers, and therefore my magic would not be sufficient.
Unfortunately for this High Priestess, I am not a polytheist. I do not and will never base my belief system upon the idea that ONE POWER is actually MANY POWERS that are fighting for world domination and using humans as minions. By the time I had run into this High Priestess, I had done significant amount of study and come to believe that “All religions are true but none are literal,” as Joseph Campbell taught. For a psychologist, of course religion isn’t literal. I was well versed in archetype psychology and came to have a point of view that archetypes are part of the universal order. Through these archetypes we can grow and learn. These archetypes can be found in all religions, which means there may be a universal truth, and ultimately that truth seeks to be known. We can find guideposts to that truth by looking for the similar archetypes running throughout history, literature, and religion. The spiritual journey never included power over others. It never included different types of powers vying for power. It is about utilizing religion and the spiritual process as the ultimate tool of self-discovery.
When faced with someone proposing something so completely foreign to me, I spoke a deep truth that I had learned.
If God was everywhere in everything and in everyone, then this High Priestess was threatening me with my own power, resolve and connection to the Divine. I was very clear that I had my own power, resolve and connection with the Divine, therefore, there could never be a threat presented to me that I couldn’t overcome.
I had come far enough to understand power was painting my skin: power people had over me, power I had from blood, power I created in ritual and magic, power I shared through love. None of the teachers I had come across had helped me unlock my power, or as far as I could see, had consciously led me closer to the Divine. However, they had all left various marks on me. I would wake from a nightmare shortly after this confrontation. In it, various sacred symbols were tattooed in glowing ink all over my skin. There was not a place on my body where I was not marked. I woke from the dream saying, “I am never going to be able to hide this.”
Huffing and puffing from this bizarre revelation, I had struck upon the wrong point. I should have asked, “What am I going to do with all this power? Power alone is never enough. Absolute power will corrupt absolutely.”
[i] “Husband and wife”: to be clear, I affirm relationships that can include (but are not limited to) homosexual partners, lesbian partners, and polyamorous partners. I have deliberately utilized the traditional wording.