by Eric Steinhart
In this post I will talk about the Wiccan ultimate deity (which I’ll just refer to as the Wiccan deity). This deity is not the Wiccan god or the goddess, but is ontologically prior to them. My purpose in this post is to talk about some of the features of this deity and its relation to some older Western conceptions of the divine.
On the basis of the quotes in my earlier post, I’d say that the Wiccan deity has these main features:
1. Ultimacy. The Farrars refer to the deity as “the Ultimate Source” (1981: 49); Buckland refers to it as the “Ultimate Deity” (1986: 19); Cunningham refers to it as “ultimate” (1988: 9). Ultimacy means that the deity is at the extreme end of some ontological scale; it is somehow at the top or bottom of some serial relation (of causality, of dependency, of abstraction, of power, etc.). Ultimacy usually means independent. To use traditional language, the deity has aseity. It exists in and through itself.
2. Immanent. The Farrars tell us that the deity manifests itself through Its creations (1981: 154). Silver Elder says “The concept of Deity and the sacred in Paganism and therefore, also in Wicca, is not transcendent, but immanent and indwelling in all” (2011: 9). And Cuhulain reports that “the Divine is immanent in everything around us. We do not separate the Divine from the everyday world . . . Everything around us is divine” (2011: 14). As immanent, the Wiccan deity is not supernatural. It is not above or beyond nature. On the contrary, this is a naturalistic conception of the divine.
3. Power. Buckland refers to the deity as “this higher power” as a “force” and as an “incomprehensible power” (1986: 19); Cunningham refers to it as a “supreme divine power”and as a “force” (1988: 9); and the American Council of Witches refers to it as “the Creative Power of the Universe” (Cuhulain, 2011: 28).
4. Creative. The Farrars refer to the deity as the “Ultimate Source” and as “the Divine creative principle of the Cosmos” (1981: 12) and they say it is the ultimate source of energy (1981: 117). They say that “the Divine Principle of the Cosmos is . . . eternally creative, manifesting through Its creations” (1981: 154). Cunningham tells us that it is “a supreme divine power . . . from which the entire universe sprang” (1988: 9). Silver Elder refers to it as the “Divine Source of All” (2011: 9). And the American Council of Witches says it is “the Creative Power of the Universe” (Cuhulain, 2011: 28).
5. Impersonal. Buckland says the deity is a “genderless force” (1986: 9). And according to Cunningham “the supreme power was personified into two basic beings: the Goddess and the God” (1988: 9). Thus the deity is impersonal and then becomes personified in male and female forms. On an odd note, the Farrars say that the deity is “conscious” (1981: 154). And I’m told there are other references to the mentality of the Wiccan deity (e.g. the Dryghtn Prayer). To be sure, the notion that the deity is conscious, or has any mentality, is seriously out of line with every other aspect of the Wiccan deity (and with the longer tradition in which it is situated). So I’ll put this down as an error. Impersonality follows from ultimacy and immanence. There are no persons immanent in all things.
6. Hidden. Buckland says the deity is “so far beyond our comprehension that we can have only the vaguest understanding of its being. Yet we know it is there” (1986: 19). Cunningham says it is “unknowable” and “far beyond our comprehension” (1988: 9). To use an older expression: we know that it is but not what it is. Of course, to say that the deity is hidden does not imply that it is cognitively inaccessible. We have cognitive access to it through our own being. Silver Elder says “We are an integral part of the All, having been created by the Divine Source of All, and therefore bear the blueprint of the Divine Source, giving us potential for a direct connection with [the Divine Source]” (2011: 9). Here there are obvious links to the Western mystical tradition (which, it must be stressed, is non-theistic). Hiddenness follows from ultimacy and immanence.
On this analysis, the Wiccan deity is the ultimate immanent creative power of being. Now there are several points to be made.
The Wiccan deity is an idea of the divine with a very long and venerable history in Western philosophy. It does indeed go back to the Platonic Form of the Good and to the Plotinian One. And this point must be stressed: Plato and Plotinus were ancient pagan philosophers. Later they become Christianized, but they weren’t Christians. One might try to analyze the Wiccan deity using the old Platonic and Neoplatonic texts. But those texts are indeed ancient, and, as such, they are foreign to us in many ways. It’s fine to say that the Wiccan deity has Neoplatonic roots, but we should probably leave it at that. Of course, there are clear parallels with the deities in the Western mystical tradition.
The Wiccan deity is not the God of Abraham. Nor is it the Christian God. And it is not even deistic (in the sense of early modern deism). Since the God of panentheism is both immanent and transcendent, the Wiccan deity is not the panentheistic God. The main difference in each case is that the Wiccan deity is entirely immanent. Strictly speaking, the Wiccan deity is non-theistic. So, an atheist (someone who denies the existence of any theistic deity) should have no objections to the Wiccan deity. And I think it would be inappropriate to refer to the Wiccan deity as “God”; the term “Source” is much better.
The Wiccan deity has some affinities with the various deities in pantheisms. And Silver Elder has some confusing language about the identity of each thing and the deity with the “All”. However, I don’t see these pantheistic affinities as significant. The Wiccan deity is not the Spinozistic substance. Nor is it a whole of which all things are literally parts. Still, for those who like the “New Atheists”, it would be interesting to compare the Wiccan deity to the concept of the divine in the first chapter of Dawkin’s The God Delusion. I’ll save that commentary for later; but here is a place where any thoughtful atheist ought to be on the lookout for some interesting similarities.
If I’m right that the Wiccan deity is the ultimate immanent creative power of being, then why would any atheist object to that?
References: Buckland, R. (1986) Complete Book of Witch Craft. Second Edition Revised and Expanded. St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn Publications. Cuhulain, K. (2011) Pagan Religions: A Handbook for Diversity Training. Portland, OR: Acorn Guild Press. Cunningham, S. (1988) Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn Publications. Farrar, J. & Farrar, S. (1981) A Witches Bible. Blaine, WA: Phoenix Publishing. Silver Elder (2011) Wiccan Celebrations: Inspiration for Living by Nature’s Cycle. Winchester, UK: Moon Books.
Other posts in the series so far: