A Devotional Practice with the World at its Center

In this post I want to write about my evolution toward a devotional religious practice with the world at its center.  I am still the process of working out what that means.  And I hope to write more about it in future posts.  For now, I just want to share how I arrived at this idea.  This is going to be a bit involved, with a lot of moving parts that are just now settling into place for me.  But for those of you who asked me to write more about my personal spirituality, and less about theology, this is for you.

After a rainstorm, near my house

A World-Affirming Religion

“Teach me to love this world.”

This has been my nightly prayer for the last three years.  I sacralize my altar space, invoke my gods, and then I ask them to teach me to love this world.

You see, I grew up in a world-denying religion.  Well, that’s not really fair.  Like much of Christianity, Mormonism can be experienced as world-denying.  But many Christians and many Mormons actually do practice their religion in a world-affirming way.  Let’s say then that I experienced Mormonism as world-denying — probably due largely to my own biological and psychological predisposition.  And I sought out Paganism as a cure for my tendency toward solipsism.

When I came to Paganism, it was because I felt the truth of Albert Camus’s words: “If there is a sin against life, it consists [...] in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”  And Paganism taught me that there is another world, but it is this one (paraphrasing Paul Eluard).  This I believe.  But even after becoming Pagan, I still felt divided.  I began this blog to work out that sense of division in me, between a drive toward escape on the one hand and a longing for depth on the other, between a desire for intellectual control on the one hand and a need for emotional freedom on the other.

Over time, I have felt this simple prayer, Teach me to live this world, work its magic in my, bringing me down to earth and cultivating a passion for life, this life.

Humanistic and Naturalistic Paganism

There are many forms of Paganism, but my natural disposition toward intellectual control led me to Humanistic or Naturalistic Paganism, which avoids all appeals to the supernatural or metaphysical and is suspicious of words like “spirit”, “magic”, and “gods”.  If Wicca is the Catholicism of Paganism, and devotional polytheism is the Evangelicalism of Paganism, then Humanistic/Naturalistic Paganism is the Unitarianism of Paganism.  Not coincidentally, I also started attending my local Unitarian church around the same time I became more open about my Paganism.

But as I worked out what Humanistic Paganism and Unitarianism meant to me, I felt that something was missing from both these paths.  About a year and a half ago, I wrote series of posts entitled, “One Needful Thing”, taking issue with what I perceived to be lacking in Unitarianism and religious humanism generally (which includes Humanistic Paganism).  In Part 1, I discussed the how even the founders of Unitarianism became its critics, perceiving that it lacked something, variously identified as enthusiasm and self-transcendence.  In Part 2, I elaborated on this missing element, drawing on the writings of Carl Jung, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, and others.  And in Part 3, I speculated about how a Humanistic Paganism might recover this missing element.

Just before a storm, from my backyard

Self-Transcendence

The key, I felt, was self-transcendence.  I identify primarily as a Self-centric Pagan in my “Three Centers” diagram of the contemporary Pagan community.  (The other centers are earth-centered and deity-centered).  “Self-centric” does not mean “self centered” in the pejorative sense.  Self-centric Paganism is not ego-centered.  The “Self” refers to that larger sense of “self” which transcends the ego.  It is sometimes called the “Big Self” or “Deep Self”, which some religions identify with “God”.  The goal of Self-centric Paganism is connection with this larger Self, just as the goals of earth-centered Paganism and deity-centered Paganism are connection with nature and the gods, respectively.  Ideally, a Self-centric Paganism is not about “navel gazing”, though, unless that “navel” is the “World Navel”.  Self-centric Paganism does lead within, but ideally the path into the depths of one’s soul opens up on the other side to the world.  I think this is what Jung was hinting at when he wrote that nature and the psyche (soul) are the same.  Just as nature extends “within” to include the psyche, so psyche extends “without” to include nature.  This is how Jung’s student, James Hillman, could talk about of “a psyche the size of the earth”.  But saying this is much easier than realizing it in practice.

Each of the Three Centers has its unique challenges (something I’ve written about before here).  The unique challenge presented by Self-centric Paganism is the fact that it is so easy to confuse the ego-self with the Self.  Psychoanalysts call this “inflation”.  The Self can be even more elusive for Self-centric Pagans than the gods are for deity-centered Pagans.  I think this is what St. Augustine meant when he said “God is closer to me than I am to myself.”  So while Self-centric Paganism ideally does not mean ego-centeredness, it can often often fall into the trap of ego-centeredness — as I know from my own experience.  It was too easy for me to let my Self-centric Paganism devolve into ego-centeredness.  Which is why I was drawn to the devotional practices of deity-centered Pagans, those Pagans who insist on the “otherness” of the gods.  Might they hold the key to the door out of my ego?

Devotional Religion

In the third part of my “One Needful Thing” series, I gave three proposals for ways to find what I felt was missing from Naturalistic Paganism.  The third proposal was to “Engage in Devotional Practice”.  I observed that devotional practice is not usually found (or recognized) in humanistic* or naturalistic** religious contexts.  Some might even say that a humanistic or naturalistic practice is actually defined by its non-devotional nature.  In 1859, Theodore Parker wrote that the Unitarians of his day had ceased to fear “the great and dreadful God” of monotheism, but they had not quite learned to love the Universe.  The same could be said of many Unitarians today, including myself.  I wondered whether it was possible to develop a devotional practice in relation to an non-anthropomorphized universe.  I speculated that, while the forms of devotional worship may be alien to many Humanistic Pagans, some might actually be practicing a kind of devotionalism toward nature already.  How then might I translate devotional religious practices into a Humanistic Pagan context?

This was about 18 months ago.  In the intervening time, I undertook to learn more about devotional practice in a Pagan context.  For this, I turned to deity-centered polytheists to learn what devotional practice looks like.  I was (and still am) impressed by the passion, the soulfulness, and the piety of polytheistic practice.  Indeed, devotional polytheism seemed to have that “one needful thing” that I had found lacking in my own Humanistic Paganism.  However, the metaphysical claims of some devotional polytheists were antithetical to my naturalistic orientation.  While I am drawn to the passion of the practice, the reification of the gods was something I could not accept.  After struggling with this conflict, I finally decided that I was just not looking for the encounters with historical deities or personal gods that are characteristic of contemporary devotional polytheistic practice.  Just before heading off to Pantheacon this year, I wrote: “Just like in e. e. cumming’s poem, I have pinched and poked and prodded, squeezed and buffeted the ‘sweet spontaneous earth’ that she might conceive gods, and she answers me only with spring.”

What Happened at Pantheacon

This brings me to Pantheacon.  I’ve already written about some of the experiences I had a Pantheacon this year, from meeting great people, and attending great rituals and workshops, to attending the Wiccanate Privilege discussion.  But I have not yet shared with you  what was the single most important experience I had during the conference, one which made me realize that what I am looking for is a devotional practice that places the world at its center.  This realization happened gradually and culminated in the Kali Puja ritual organized by Sharanya.

From my visit to Muir Woods

First, before the Con started, Ruth and I went to Muir Woods.  It is a sacred place to me, where I easily feel my immersion in the natural world.  It set the tone for the entire Conference for me, and opened me up to realization I was going to have.  Then, on the first evening of the Con, I had the first hint of this realization.  Ruth and I participated in a ritual organized by T. Thorn Coyle.  At one point in the ritual, Thorn asked those present to think of the name by which the divine calls to them.  I thought about it and a name came to me, seemingly out of nowhere … “Beloved”.  I thought it was strange, but it felt right.  It wasn’t until later that the name fit into the larger picture for me.

Later in the Con, Ruth and I attended a workshop led by LaSara Firefox and Robert Allen entitled, “Mystical Love: Encountering the Divine Other.”  I chose this workshop primarily because of the title.  In the workshop, LaSara and Robert drew on the writings of mystics through the ages to develop the idea that we can encounter the Divine through another person and eventually transcend our ego-consciousness in this way.  It was interesting that they described it as a form of bhakti yoga.  Bhakti yoga is the yoga or path of devotion.  It involves fostering love and surrendering to God (or a god).  The workshop got me thinking about the idea of encountering divinity through a passionate relationship with another person.  And it was a short step from there to the idea of encountering God through a passionate relationship with the entire world.  It was then that I remembered a book that I bought a while ago, but never got around to reading: The World is a Waiting Lover by Trebbe Johnson, which is right along these lines.

The Kali Puja Ritual

But the most important experience I had was at the Kali Puja ritual organized by Chandra Alexandre and Sharanya.  I had been to this ritual at the last Pantheacon I attended, so I knew what to expect, but this time I had a very different experience.  (Let me preface what follows by saying that this is how I experienced and interpreted the ritual, and other present may have had different experiences and interpretations.)  The Kali Puja ritual is a devotional ritual.  There are expressions of love, gratitude, and surrender to the goddess Kali.  Outwardly, the ritual has the form of the worship of a single Indian goddess.  But this was not deity-centered ritual, per se.  Kali is an expression of the universal Goddess, the Divine Feminine, which emphasizes her antinomian, relational, embodied, cyclical and chthonic characteristics.  She is manifest in the physical world and in our own bodies.  While, in a superficial sense, the focus of the ritual seemed to be on the goddess Kali, in actuality the focus was on the Goddess as experienced by and manifest through each of the people present.  Unlike deity-centered ritual, in which any benefit to the participants is secondary to the benefit to the gods, the goal of the Kali Puja was the transformation of the participants.

There was one point in the ritual when Chandra invited those who were menstruating, had recently given birth, or had just had sex to stand and be honored.  The last time I had attended, my wife was not with me so I did not stand.  Obviously, the only way a man would stand in this context is if he had had sex recently.  This time we did stand.  (It was the day after Valentines Day after all!)  I thought about staying on my knees and hiding, but it seemed wrong.  And then everyone in the room bowed to those who were standing.  It was one of the most sublimely humbling experiences of my life.  I felt like I was standing naked before all the world, but unashamed.  I was acutely aware of my maleness, but I also felt something else that transcended gender.  Someone from a monotheistic religion looking at this might have thought that those bowing were worshipping me and the others standing.  But what they were honoring was the Goddess manifest though us, through our bodies.  I knew that it was not me that was being worshipped, but the Goddess.  I have never experienced a Drawing Down before, but I imagine that what I felt standing there was a little like that.  I felt, more than ever before in my life, that I was manifesting the Goddess — the Goddess who is the creative, erotic, fleshy, physical world itself.  And here was a devotional ritual with the world at its center.

The plant in my office

A Devotional Practice with the World at its Center

After the Kali Puja ritual, I started to put these pieces together.

I have been so distracted over the last 18 months by conflict over theological question like the nature of the polytheistic gods, that I had lost sight of why I had gone looking for those gods in the first place.  I realized that devotional practice is not limited to deity-centered religion.  There can be an earth-centered or nature-centered kind of devotion too.  What I needed was to develop a devotional religious practice, not toward gods, but toward the world.  I needed to embrace the world as my Beloved (there’s that name again), as my waiting lover.  The world is that Divine Other I have been seeking who can draw me out of my ego.  And I need a religious practice that will affirm, encourage, and sustain this embrace.

I hear the world calling me with the voice of a lover:

“You called me: here I am. Driven by the Spirit far from humanity’s caravan routes, you dared to venture into the untouched wilderness; grown weary of abstractions, of attenuations, of the wordiness of social life, you wanted to pit yourself against Reality entire and untamed.

“You had need of me in order to grow; and I was waiting for you in order to be made holy.

“Always you have, without knowing it, desired me; and always I have been drawing you to me.

“And now I am established on you for life, or for death. You can never go back, never return to commonplace gratifications or untroubled worship. He who has once seen me can never forget me: he must either damn himself with me or save me with himself.

“Are you coming?”

– From Hymn of the Universe by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

What exactly this looks like in practice is something I am still working out and which I hope to share with you in future posts.

 

* “Humanistic” does not mean human-centered.  Humanistic religion begins with the premise that the source of human values should be located in human experience, not in divine dictates.

** In this context, “naturalistic” refers to philosophical naturalism which eschews all appeals to supernatural or metaphysical explanations.

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  • Kenneth Apple

    I find it difficult to take the practices I am making myself as seriously as I would something handed down or used for many years. I think this is why even new religions cloak themselves in antiquity if at all possible. Partly it is a matter of familiarity, I know all the tricks I’m using. It’s like reading your own novel for pleasure, which I’m not sure can be done. It’s a stark difference with the RE class I am teaching at my own UU congregation. It for 3rd to 6th graders and we are working with storytelling and Native American myths. I know if I’m getting it right because I can see the response, eyes get big, the squirrely kids get quiet and they all lean forward….and when he looked back the bloody skeleton was gone, and there was only one set of footprints in the snow.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I had the same problem when I left the LDS Church. I felt I could not “dwell” authentically in the rituals of my own creation. I agree that part of it is about familiarity. For me, another part of it was that the first rituals I wrote were very “heady”. When I started to write rituals for myself that came more from my heart and soul, then it became easier to feel authentic performing them. The key, I think is letting go, and that’s easier when you’re not “reading your own novel” as you say.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I wonder how much of this is “reading your own novel” and how much is a deep fear that we, ourselves, couldn’t possibly be doing it right. The line between hubris and self-confidence is frequently hard to see…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

    John, your writing never ceases to impress and provoke me (in the good way!). I feel like you provide serious meat to chew and reflect upon in your posts. Of course, I both agree and completely disagree with your explanation of Kali. But we can quibble theologically all the live long day; what is important is that you had a beautiful, consciousness-shifting experience in Her presence. As some one who doesn’t easily have those transcending experiences, I know how hard won they can be! I also, as always, appreciate your honesty in your own hang-ups – I too relate to the desire to leave the thinky, ego-centric approach to religion/spirituality behind.

    I’m rambling: great post!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thank you! That means a lot, especially since we were in the ritual together. (BTW, I really thought they should have included pregnant women in the group that stood up. I wondered if that was an oversight.)

      We’ll have to chat about Kali some other time then. :)

      • Chandra Alexandre

        Delighted to learn of your experience at Kali Puja! I wanted to note that we acknowledged body realities in the ritual that are traditionally (i.e., by the Hindu orthodox) considered unclean by virtue of the expelling of bodily fluids (especially blood) and associated with taboos against women. Women who are pregnant do not fall into the same category, although I certainly understand the logic. We, as you noted, welcomed all genders into the devotion in order to break the mold further. We are, afterall, a (heterodox) Tantric tradition. Glad you joined us.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          Thank you!

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    As I was reading, I thought to myself, I wonder if he’s read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? And then you quoted him. :)

    > I felt, more than ever before in my life, that I was manifesting the Goddess — the Goddess who is the creative, erotic, fleshy, physical world itself.

    YES!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      That’s funny. I was actually thinking of your book, *Eros and Touch*, whenI wrote the last part. I just finished the first chapter. I’m loving it!

      • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

        I’m glad! And also pleased, because the book does seem to speak to people with radically different theological positions, as I hoped. :)

  • http://www.12stepwitch.com/ 12StepWitch

    Oh yes!

    Mostly this is the feeling I have for the world: I love you, i love you, I love you. Today in the still-dead forest the dried golden leaves of the American Beech tree floated like a silk scarf that had been frozen in mid-air, still clutching the branches after all the other leaves on all the other trees had long ago dropped off. It felt like a love poem from the Goddess to me, to all of us. What is the reason for this beauty? Is it for it’s own sake or is it just madness? Either way my heart leaps at it and I am overjoyed.

    Are you familiar with Krishna and Radha? This is a story I am really increasingly compelled by, both as something to work with in love magick and a guiding myth to work with in how I approach the Divine.

    I have more to write but time for bed. More tomorrow =) Wonderful post.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I would love to hear more about Krishna and Radha and what their story means to you. Please share!

    • http://www.12stepwitch.com/ 12StepWitch

      I first came across Radha and Krishna when I was looking for a deity to work with in a love magick workshop. They didn’t work out for that particular experience, but came to my mind later when I felt compelled to enter into a devotional relationship with a deity or deities in order to bring some sacred energy around my marriage. When you search for deities to work with around issues of marriage and love, often you get Greek suggestions—Hera, or Aphrodite. But the relationship between Hera and Zeus is just about the last energy I’d want to bring into my home, and Aphrodite I have some issues with. I returned to Radha and Krishna and learned more about their story and was totally entranced.

      I read that “Krishna’s youthful dalliances with the ‘gopis’ are interpreted as symbolic of the loving interplay between God and the human soul. Radha’s utterly rapturous love for Krishna and their relationship is often interpreted as the quest for union with the divine.” Indeed, Radha loved Krishna SO MUCH and was so utterly devoted to him that she ultimately was elevated by her devotion into a goddess herself. By her devotion to him and her love for him she became the most beloved of Krishna. Their love was not jealous or possessive—Radha was married to another and Krishna had many Gopi’s and wives. Even when they were apart, they were one, their souls intermingled and united–and now they are worshipped in some traditions not as two gods, but as one–Radha-Krishna.

      I want to be like Radha–I want my relationship with the divine to be like her relationship with Krishna–i want to be so devoted to the beauty of the dance with the Universe that I achieve a greater union with it. Her joy in Krishna, her delight at his beauty, her thoughts only for how she could be closer to him–these elevated her lived experience of the world.

      In love magick, I invite their energy into my home—their statue is above my hearth, and I give offerings to them and say blessings to them in hopes that their joy in each other and their devotion to each other inspire the humans that live within my walls!

      Hope any of this makes sense. Would love to hear any of Niki’s thoughts on this as I know she probably is a great deal more informed on Radha and Krishna than I am!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        Wow! That is beautiful. I had not heard that before.

        >”i want to be so devoted to the beauty of the dance with the Universe that I achieve a greater union with it.”

        Yes! That’s it!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

        I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know a ton about Krishna and Radha. Bascially, what you said! But I am not a devotee of Krishna or Vishnu. I’m a lover of Shiva all the way. There is so much to uncover about him, and the other deities that speak to me, that I’ve put very little time and energy into learning about Krishna – other than on a surface level.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    John, I appreciate you sharing your spiritual journey. There is great honesty and integrity here. Part of me would like to join you, but there’s those pesky deities who won’t leave me alone…

    On another topic, I see you’ve gone back to three centers of Paganism instead of four. What made you decide Community wasn’t really a center?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      That’s a good question. The honest truth is that I don’t feel like I can speak meaningfully about the fourth center yet. I see examples of the other three centers in Paganism in more or less “pure” forms — of course there is lots of blending too. But I don’t see the where there is a distinct “community-centered” Paganism. In Paganism, community seems to be more of a means to an end … celebrating nature, working magic, honoring the deities. Whereas, in some forms of Heathenry, for example, honoring the gods seems to be the means, and building community the end. I could be way off here. I welcome your thoughts on this, and anyone else’s.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

        The only place I really see Community Centered Paganism is in Hellenism, with its emphasis on worship of ancestors and household spirits, and with its emphasis that the family is more important than the individual.

        I see threads of it in Heathenism and other reconstructionist traditions, though they tend to be primarily Deity Centered.

        I think it’s important enough to leave it as a Center, even if it doesn’t get anywhere near the emphasis the other Centers do… if for no other reason than we’re going to need each other a lot in the future (see my most recent post on Paganism in 2064).
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2014/03/the-pagan-world-in-2064.html

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

          HInduism isn’t Paganism, but I suspect groups like Sharanya, which slot into both, is very community centered. Hinduism, even it’s esoteric hinterlands, has a strong understanding and commitment to the kula, or spiritual family. While I am not Hellenic, I find that much of their practice and ideals resonate with me regarding householding and community building. Also, I believe some of the Norse traditions are similar.

      • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

        I find a lot of folk practices are carried forward without practitioners necessarily understanding what they mean, where they came from, or why they resonate. They may be subject to multiple interpretations. For some they may be acts of devotion to a deity, for others a way of connecting to natural cycles, for others simply a fun activity to do with the kids. But they do indeed resonate, else they wouldn’t perpetuate themselves. Personally I’ve felt the appeal of many such practices very strongly. (I’m talking about things like making a corn dolly or a Brigid’s cross, decorating eggs, dancing around a maypole, fashioning a crown of flowers, baking bread, hosting a feast, masquing, exchanging gifts.) This is what I think of when I hear “community-centered.” Does this qualify? If so I think it’s pretty significant.

  • Guest

    This is wonderful, beautiful, moving, and I really dig it. I took want
    to learn to love the world. I too want a devotional practice with the
    world at the center. (Have you defined “world” somewhere? I sometimes
    get confused regarding what that term means exactly.) Thank you for
    sharing so many personal particulars.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      “World” — for me it’s the physical universe, or at least the part of it that is accessible to me.

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    This is wonderful, beautiful, moving, and I really dig it. I too want to learn to love the world. This harsh winter provided many opportunities to meditate on this idea as I have a deep-seated aversion to cold. How to love, how to accept something I find unpleasant? I too want a devotional practice with the world at the center. (Have you defined “world” somewhere? I sometimes get confused regarding what that term means exactly.) Thank you for sharing so many personal particulars.

    Also as much as I want to love the world I also want to change it: in particular the social world. Loving and accepting while still working to change requires a certain balance.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Yes. I think the world is the kind of lover who we should struggle with. Some like it rough.

      (“World” — for me it’s the physical universe, or at least the part of it that is accessible to me.)

      • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

        I meant to add, this is why I have found the image of Gaia, or Mother Earth, or the Great Mother, as the most compelling of ancient deities (I don’t know enough about Kali to comment) because she embodies the idea of the world as a sacred context.

  • Henry Buchy

    “And now I am established on you for life, AND for death. You can never go back, never return to commonplace gratifications or untroubled worship. He who has once seen me can never forget me: he WILL damn himself with me AND save me with himself.

    “But you always have been there.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      de Chardin is amazing!

  • yewtree

    I really love this post and the ideas in it. I regard deities as allies rather than beings whom I serve. But please don’t characterise Wicca as the Catholicism of Paganism. Shudder.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Hmmm… It’s an analogy I’ve heard WIccans use pretty freely. I’m not suggesting that Wicca is like Catholicism. More like Wicca is to Catholicism as Humanistic Paganism is to Unitarian Universalism. Many forms of Wicca are traditional, formal, hierarchical … that’s all I meant.

      • http://www.12stepwitch.com/ 12StepWitch

        I would agree, add to traditional formal and hierarchical the descriptor ritualistic….
        Reclaimers get called the Pentecostal witches…

        Gotta have a sense of humor about these things.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Thsi is very interesting, and I look forward to hearing more about your own development in these directions.
    I have to vehemently disagree with the characterization of devotional polytheists as “Evangelicals,” though. If we must use Christian analogs, most devotional polytheists are a lot more like the various Orthodox Christians (Coptic, Syriac, Greek, Russian, etc.) than Evangelicals. You can’t really have Evangelical without Protestantism’s general outlines, and most devotional and recon polytheists aren’t very Protestant in their outlook (even though, in some reckonings, our movement came “later” and “in protest” to things that went before…but there the similarities end).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      It is a problematic analogy, with lots of undesirable associations. I connected the two because both focus on intense personal experiences of personal deity/ies framed by a deep respect for the authority of historical texts. Alison Leigh Lily has mentioned a couple of other similarities over at my Google+ post. https://plus.google.com/112672033288070508615/posts

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        While the differences in our polytheisms are quite moot for the purposes of the present discussion, I think Alison is WAY off in her comparisons. The four aspects of evangelicism she mentions there don’t have remotely similar correspondences in most forms of devotional polytheism: “biblicism” is impossible, for example, because most of us don’t have nearly the same sort of relationship to texts (if, indeed, we have any at all) that Christians do; respect for certain sources does not mean the same thing as literalism and sola scriptura in evangelical circles. “Crucicentrism” is also impossible in any way that can be applicable to devotional polytheism, because it literally means “centered on the crucifix,” and how is that remotely relevant? Certainly, some of us have intense personal relationships with deities, but they are of quite a different flavor than those of evangelicals–there is no motive to evangelize because any of our gods are the only god and therefore the only possible savior of fallen humanity; sure, many of us think that those who want to be devoted to whichever deity they like can and should do that, but we also realize it’s not for everyone, and doesn’t remotely appeal to many, nor does it have to. How can that in any way be comparable to the evangelical standpoint on Jesus?

        There are very intense devotional and personal relationships between Orthodox Christians and various Saints, for example, and with the Trinity; and, tradition (rather than text) is the center of those denominations. I think it’s a more apt comparison, personally. (But, Orthodox Christianity is also a very big *unknown* for many western people these days, alas…so, I understand if it wasn’t fresh in your mind when you made the comparison, given that not a lot of people are as familiar with it.)

        It might be nice to take into account the actual feelings of the polytheists that are being broad-brushed on occasions like this–and I don’t necessarily mean that to say you’ve done anything wrong, John, but instead it seems like Alison’s comparison and its details have been done in a way to be more pejorative than usefully descriptive. As much as she has a point that some devotional polytheists have disparaged other practices of polytheism (and I think they’ve done so wrongly), that doesn’t then mean that all of us are the equivalent of Southern Baptists (or worse!).

        • http://daoineile.com/ Aine

          I agree with PSVL. I also think it’s really problematic to essentially say ‘/those/ polytheists’, with really heavy undertones of ‘those polytheists I don’t like’. If the problem is that people are being broad-brushed or shoved out, we need that to stop /on all sides/, yeah?

          I think the points Alison raised also fall very short of reality. The Otherfaith is a devotional polytheist religion, and it does not fall in line with her ‘four aspects’.

          And, the claim that speaking about one’s faith is an attempt to convert is… I find that to be BS. When I am attempting to puff up the Otherfaith and ‘advertise it’, I speak in a very different way then when I’m just talking about my experiences or sharing with friends. (For example, I don’t ‘preach’ to my atheist boyfriend.) Firm conviction does not equal attempts at conversion. I find the comparison offensive, frankly. It seems like a way to silence devotional polytheists – and I’m not interested in anything that might silence the new Other People joining my faith. I want them to be able to talk freely about their explorations in the religion, not be afraid of being told their ‘witnessing’ or ‘evangelizing’ to others.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

            Yes, you’re right. Reality is always more complex than these facile analogies.

          • WAH

            What is the Otherfaith? Is there something online I can check out? I’m not interested in joining (I’m totally at home in my own ways) just interested in knowing about it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          I agree, it paints too broad a swath.

          Well, I don’t think I can unequivocally compare traditional Wicca to Catholicism or devotional polytheism to Christian Evangelicalism anymore. But I stand by my comparison of Humanistic Paganism with Unitarian Universalism (since I have personal experience with both).

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            I think the Humanistic Paganism and UU comparison can work (perhaps not for everyone, but in any case); but yes, the others might bear further reflection. I don’t know what might be the best comparison for Wicca within Christianity…perhaps something early and Gnostic? Who knows? ;)

  • sacredblasphemies

    I related a lot to this piece. Including the bit on Sharanya. (I was also at the Kali Puja ritual and found it to be remarkable.) Thanks for writing and sharing it!

    I didn’t read all of the comments, but given your interest in Sharanya, I was wondering if you’ve come across David Chapman’s writing on Reinventing Buddhist Tantra over at http://meaningness.wordpress.com. If not, you should definitely check it out. It’s Buddhist, not Hindu, though.

    Basically, his argument is that Tantra is an ideal approach to the universe for Westerners, particularly Buddhists. He’s dismissive of most Buddhists as being “consensus” Buddhists, trying to shove a square-pegged traditionally renunciate religion like Buddhism into a round-holed counterculture-influenced modern American society.

    Tantra, however, doesn’t involve renunciation and thus is more suited to modern-day Buddhists.

    So how does this relate to your piece? Not very much, only that I think Chapman’s approach is useful to Pagans. So much of traditional Hindu Tantra can be repellent or just not suited to Westerners (though perhaps that doesn’t apply to Sharanya, as it’s already Westernized). I’d like to see some of Chapman’s approach applied to Paganism. At any rate, it’s useful for Pagans.

    As for UUism, I can’t say I’m impressed. As someone on the political left, I’ve attended in order to find a community of people with similar values as myself when I’ve lived in more politically conservative areas. There is some good stuff in UUism, but there’s just this intellectual remove from their bodies. They’d rather read a Mary Oliver poem about Nature than dance under the stars naked in a drum circle. Could be their New England origins, the intellectual nature of UUism, the Protestant heritage or…more likely…a combination of all of the above.

    They’re nice people just not as much fun as my fellow Pagans.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I’ll definitely check out the link. Thanks! The renunciation aspect of Buddhism is something I always had problems with.

      I know just what you mean about UUs!

  • Jay

    I’m not sure that you’ve heard of this organization/event, but I think it’s something you would be interested based on this article.

    Surrender: An Ecosex Convergence
    http://www.ecosexconvergence.org/

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      That does look interesting. I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  • WAH

    As much as I’ve disagreed with things you’ve written in the past, I just wanted to pop by and state my heartfelt appreciation for your sharing this. I found it really interesting and pretty cool. I believe differently, but I respect where you’re coming from a lot more now after reading this.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks!

  • Lucas Pereira

    Great post!

    This idea of devotion to the Goddess manifest through the world itself, through the human body, is very inspiring and even challenging for an introverted person like me. I see some similarity between your insights and something I’ve been reflecting on, as I try to develop a spiritual practice.

    Some time ago, I was thinking about the role of images in a naturalistic spirituality. Since my childhood, and probably due to my Catholic upbringing, I’ve always admired the beauty of cult images, which, as people are often reminded in that religion, should not be regarded as divine, being just a material representation of a spiritual reality. I also love the way hindus bathe their deities, adorn them and place flowers and food before them. Since my worldview became a naturalistic one, I’ve been thinking that the practice of using sculptures, icons, or even, rocks and trees, as the focus of a devotional practice, may be part of a spirituality that regards the physical as a manifestation (not just a representation) of the Divine (which, for me, is Reality itself). Maybe “idol worship” is an element naturalistic pagans could successfully reclaim, in a way that’s not based on spirit/matter, creator/creature dualisms. Although there’s a big difference between a man-made image and the human body, for example, the former, as an expression of man’s creativity and his sense of sacredness, may be a complement to practices which honor the divine in nature and in ourselves like the one you beautifully described.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks Lucas. My altar is an important part of my practice. Growing up Mormon, I was deprived of iconography, which made it all the more appealing when I became Pagan. I’d like to explore the idea of idolatry from a naturalistic perspective. For some reason, I’ve never experienced a conflict.

  • Brianna

    Recently discovered your blog, and this is one of my favorite posts. Thank you! This resonates with me in so many different areas: I too go to UU Church with my family, but often experience “something missing.” The idea of pledging devotion to a deity feels rich and intimate, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do it. I’m fairly agnostic about the nature of deities, and don’t have a clear sense of how I’d establish enough of an authentic relationship to pledge devotion to one. But devotion with the world itself, just as it is, at the center? That’s lovely. I look forward to reading more about how this unfolds for you.


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