Eric Steinhart here.
On my analysis of several key Wiccan texts, I’ve said that the Wiccan deity is the ultimate immanent creative power of being. This is a non-theistic and non-Christian concept of the divine. Please try to avoid projecting theistic or Christian concepts into Wicca. The Wiccan deity is not a thing; on the contrary, it is a power within things.
Concepts that are similar to the concept of the Wiccan deity appear in several guises in the history of philosophy. The Wican deity is similar to conatus. Conatus is the tendency of a being to preserve and enhance its being.
Conatus becomes the natural striving of Leibniz. Leibniz says that every possibility naturally strives for actual existence. He writes that “Everything possible demands that it should exist” (in Rescher, 1991: 171). And he writes that “from the fact that something rather than nothing exists, it follows that in possible things, or in their possibility or essence itself, there is a certain demand or (so to speak) a claim for existence; in short, that essence tends by itself towards existence” (1697: 86). Possibilities (which are potentialities for being) naturally strive to actually be; and every thing that does exist naturally strives to further actualize its potentialities. This striving is natural: it is an immanent creative power of being within every being. And it is ultimate, since it accounts for why there is something rather than nothing.
After Leibniz, this natural striving gets taken up by Schopenhauer. It becomes the will (in his The World as Will and Representation). And then it becomes Nietzsche’s will to power. Leibniz’s natural striving, and its later developments in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, all serve as naturalistic alternatives to the Christian God. Schopenhauer was an atheist and so was Nietzsche.
The Wiccan deity is also similar to natura naturans. Natura naturans is “nature naturing”; it is the power in every natural thing to be what it is and do what it does. Natura naturans first appears in various Medieval writers. It is more extensively developed by Spinoza. Spinoza uses the phrase to characterize the creative power of his deity (which is clearly not the theistic deity – Spinoza was charged with atheism).
The concept of natura naturans is central to a recent philosophical movement known as religious naturalism. The religious naturalists include people like Ursula Goodenough and Donald Crosby. I would strongly encourage every atheist to read Goodenough’s book The Sacred Depths of Nature (1998) and to read Crosby’s book A Religion of Nature (2002). It must be stressed that neither of these authors is Wiccan or neo-pagan. And while Goodenough still has theistic tendencies, Crosby is an outright atheist. Since Crosby is explicitly atheistic, I’ll focus on his concept of natura naturans. Here I’m mainly taking ideas from Chapters 1 and 2 of his A Religion of Nature.
Crosby denies that there are any supernatural beings like gods, goddesses, immaterial minds, or spirits. The theistic deity (e.g. the Christian God) does not exist. There is no world-spirit. Crosby is not an animist or panpsychist. Nature has no sentience; it is ultimately mindless and utterly lacking in purpose or consciousness. There are no supernatural powers or entities that are required to explain nature. There are no entities that transcend nature. Any transcendence happens entirely within nature.
Crosby writes that “Nature, then, is the creative matrix from which all things arise and to which they return, the complexity of orders and powers by which these things are upheld and by which each of them, or each type of them, attains its own peculiar attributes and capabilities” (2002: 21). Nature is “a dynamic, restless energy of growth, nurture, productivity, and change” (2002: 42). Natura naturans is “unceasing creative energy” (2002: 114). And natura naturans is “the creative power . . . underlying and producing all of the systems of nature that ever have been or ever will be” (2002: 154). Much much more can be said here (and I’ll say some of it in later posts).
It must be stressed again that religious naturalists like Crosby are not Wiccans. My only point is that the concept of the Wiccan deity, which is pretty crudely expressed in the Wiccan texts, is very similar to the concept of natura naturans that is very precisely developed in the writings of the religious naturalists. Wiccans ought to study the religious naturalists to gain some clarity. Atheists ought to study the religious naturalists too. It is certainly possible to have an atheistic religion of nature.
Crosby, D. (2002) A Religion of Nature. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Goodenough, U. (1998) The Sacred Depths of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press.
Leibniz, G. W. (1697/1988) On the ultimate origination of the universe. In P. Schrecker & A. Schrecker (1988) Monadology and Other Philosophical Essays. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 84-94.
Rescher, N. (1991) G. W. Leibniz’s Monadology: An Edition for Students. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Other posts in the series so far: