The Paganism of a Child

Star Foster found this beautiful story of a Catholic grandfather whose nine year old granddaughter is praying to the Greek gods – apparently because he gave her the Percy Jackson series of novels. Explaining it, the nine year old said:

When I am at the beach near the water, I feel close to Poseidon. When I am in a thunderstorm, I feel close to Zeus. When I see a beautiful person, I feel close to Aphrodite, and when I hear someone really smart or good with weapons, I feel close to Athena. It’s all God, just showing himself in all those ways.

Instead of being shocked, the Catholic grandfather was awed:

Then I proceeded to marvel. The little nine-year-old finds God where God is: everywhere. She experiences a mystical closeness to the transcendent Oneness in the calm sea, the roaring thunder, the word of wisdom, the face of beauty. My religion has a name for it. Contemplation, the highest and most sublime form of prayer.

That’s straight-up, orthodox Catholicism, which you could read in the New Catholic Catechism, if by some miracle the New Catholic Catechism became interesting.

Star blogged about this story, saying “some people thought I was being silly when I said these pop culture references would lead people to our religions, but it happens.” She’s right. The old religions ended with the rise of Christianity, but old gods and goddesses never left. They just moved from religion to culture… and now they’re moving back into the realm of religion.

There is no comment section for the original story, which is probably a good thing. If there was, the grandfather would be inundated with Catholics telling him how wrong he is for tolerating Paganism and Evangelicals saying they aren’t surprised because Catholics are really pagans and not Christians.

And there would be at least one Pagan pontificating about how the nine year old is wrong and Poseidon, Zeus, Aphrodite and Athena aren’t “God showing himself in all those ways” – they’re real, distinct beings who should be worshipped like the individual deities they are.

The longer I practice the more I become convinced the gods and goddesses really are distinct, individual beings. But as this story shows, there is still a place for soft polytheism, the idea that all gods and goddesses are part of one God/dess. In a world where monotheism still dominates both the religious and cultural realms and where science largely determines what is and isn’t considered real, it can be difficult for people to accept the idea that Zeus is anything more than the personification of natural forces or a psychological archetype.

So when the old gods come calling – through Nature, through culture, and occasionally through the efforts of those of us who follow them – people relate to them in the only way that fits their ideas of how the world works.

And before you – or I – write this off as an immature, infant form of Paganism, remember how this wise grandfather described his granddaughter’s experience: “a mystical closeness to the transcendent Oneness.”

I’ve experienced that mystical closeness too. It’s not the same as my experience of Cernunnos or Morrigan or Isis. It’s an experience reported by mystics of all religions, a merging of the self with the Universe, of seeing and feeling and knowing the Divine is everywhere. If someone chooses to worship that transcendent wonder, I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong.

There’s a time to debate the nature of the gods and the subtleties of religious belief. And then there’s a time to simply appreciate the wisdom of a child.

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  • yeah I agree so much. My first experience of paganism was pretty similar. Realizing that the God of church was cold and distant but the Deity in the moon, stars, sky, woods, fields was alive and present and with me. I'm glad that our deities aren't dead but are living and breathing with the heartbeat of the earth.

  • I enjoyed reading your post. It added another perspective to the current discourse in regards to Percy Jackson. Whereas Star Foster posted about it as a gate of conversion, and I posted about its impact on young Pagan children (specifically my own); you added yet another facet. I personally find truth in both hard and soft polytheism, and try not to focus too much upon what the nature of the Gods is, but instead the experiencing their presence.

    Boidh se!

    -Spanish Moss
    "Lost in a thicket bare-footed upon a thorned path."