For the third consecutive year, June has been declared “Pagan Values Month.” Pagan bloggers and podcasters have been asked write and talk about Pagan values – what they are and why they’re important.
I think any question of values has to start with origins – where do our values come from? Some conservative monotheists claim that any true values must come from God, as anything else would simply be a matter of personal opinion and prejudices. These folks desperately want values to be handed down so they’ll have a black and white moral code. But wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true.
True values aren’t handed down from on high and they aren’t subject to individual whims. True values are discovered – they’re distilled from our experiences. What is True? What is Right? And on a more practical level, what works for individuals and for communities? We find out by seeing what our experiences tell us. And by “our” I don’t just mean our own individual experiences, but also the experiences of our families, friends, and co-religionists; plus the experiences of our ancestors.
I see two overriding values rising out of our collective Pagan experiences: multiplicity and unity.
Multiplicity. The gods and goddesses are many. We can argue about whether these are different aspects of one God/dess or if they’re individual beings (soft vs. hard polytheism), but in either case we all experience the Divine differently.
The gods and goddesses who call me may not be the same gods and goddesses who call you. The prayers and practices they ask of me may not be the prayers and practices they ask of you. In this environment, the idea of religious conformity, much less religious compulsion, is absurd.
From multiplicity flows the values of freedom and respect. If the goddesses and gods are many, then deciding who to follow and how to follow them is up to you (though they may or may not give you much choice in the matter). You have the freedom to choose your religion. And if you have that freedom then so does everyone else. Therefore you have the responsibility to respect others and the choices they make.
Unity. Mystics of every religion in every era have reported similar experiences: a sense of oneness with everyone and everything, a breaking down of the barriers between us and the Divine, between us and everything else. This is mirrored in the material world, where science tells us that in the instant before the Big Bang, all matter and energy were condensed into an infinitely small point – all was one. From that singularity came stars and planets, and on at least one planet, life. Each organism on the Earth is descended from a common ancestor, some recent and some over three billion years in the past.
From unity we came, and to unity we will return.
From unity flows the values of hospitality and self-reliance. We are all related and our destinies are inseparably intertwined. Helping others is both a sacred duty and our own self-interest. And we cannot take care of others until we take care of ourselves.
Multiplicity and unity. Freedom and respect. Hospitality and self-reliance. These pairs are not contradictory, they are complimentary. Our experience tells us we need both sides of these polar opposites, sometimes more of one, other times more of the other. But we do need them all.
Pagan values – they aren’t black and white. But nothing in this universe is.