Does “Paganism” Bring You Down? – UPDATED

Find other posts related to this topic on the link round-up post!

Drew Jacob seems to have touched on a hot topic this morning when he explained Why I’m Not Pagan:

I haven’t referred to myself as Pagan in at least four years. I use the word polytheist instead, if I need to; it usually garners a lot of questions and those conversations lead to understanding. When I called myself Pagan people assumed they knew what I meant, and we ended up talking past each other.

In fact, Drew posits that what he practices, and what many polytheists practice, isn’t “Pagan” at all:

We also made more contact with other spiritual communities. I found that Hindus, Native Americans, Tibetan Buddhists, and Vodouisants had no difficulty understanding what we did at Temple of the River. Our traditions and structure looked familiar to them. It became clear that the brand of polytheism we practiced was not Pagan at all—it was a religion in its own right, deeply rooted in a living culture with a long history, like Hinduism or Shinto.

I’ve been hearing from the Reconstructionist and Polytheist communities how they don’t identify as Pagan, they feel they have little in common with Paganism, some feel that the Pagan movement paints everyone with a Wicca-esque brush, and some even claim that their religious communities actually thrive after they leave the Pagan label and community behind.

The support and buzz Drew’s post has generated leaves me wondering how pervasive this trend is. Are Recons and Polytheists leaving the Pagan community in droves, or, even more astounding to me, never interacting with the Pagan community to begin with?

This astounds me. Is the idea of Paganism as a broad inclusive community useful? Is it simply too idealistic? Are we simply doing it wrong? Isn’t there supposed to be strength in numbers? Or, and this is what has my brain buzzing, is “Paganism” bringing us down?

I’m looking for folks from various traditions who want to respond to and expand on this issue. If you want to weigh in drop me a line at sfoster@patheos.com.

Helio: Polytheist More Enlightening Label

Scott Reimers: It’s Time for Pagans to Stop Being Pagan

T. Thorn Coyle writes Paganism: Some Questions and Paganism: One Working Answer

Allyson: It’s a Matter of Association

Sannion: I Am A Pagan

Laura LaVoie: Pagans Need United Front

Tess Dawson: My Unrequited Love for Pagans

Ruby Sara: The Troublesome Term Again

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

    Exhibit A: Paganspace

    That site has the level of intellectual and mature discourse that equates to an elementary school playground. 

    Every day I wish, strain and hope for unity of the pagan community and become more frustrated, disenchanted and bitter with every divisive and insipid post.  There are seemingly less in common philosophically, ethically and spiritually then ever between recons and general pagans. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

    Exhibit A: Paganspace

    That site has the level of intellectual and mature discourse that equates to an elementary school playground. 

    Every day I wish, strain and hope for unity of the pagan community and become more frustrated, disenchanted and bitter with every divisive and insipid post.  There are seemingly less in common philosophically, ethically and spiritually then ever between recons and general pagans. 

  • http://twitter.com/chorisschema Corc Hamr

    When speaking of myself, I often refer to myself as a polytheist and animist, as I have for over 7 years. When speaking of the community, I still use the term Pagan or Neopagan. I don’t think the word is bringing us down, but I do believe that some of the connotations (both in and outside the community) do need to be countered with facts.

  • http://twitter.com/chorisschema Corc Hamr

    When speaking of myself, I often refer to myself as a polytheist and animist, as I have for over 7 years. When speaking of the community, I still use the term Pagan or Neopagan. I don’t think the word is bringing us down, but I do believe that some of the connotations (both in and outside the community) do need to be countered with facts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

    I appreciate the mantra “words have power” For they do. Yet, I come from a “school of thought” that words are neutral- we, as individuals, place our emotions, meaning, and experience to into the words. Some words are not offensive to others and other words are. I believe individuals should call themselves whatever they feel comfortable with.
     
    I use the word “Pagan” to describe myself with individuals outside the Abraham religion. Surprising many individuals “understand” that and would further ask me if I practice Wicca, African-Traditionalist Spirituality, and the likes. Similar to a Christian. I ask if they are Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, and the likes. Even in ancient Paganism of Celts, Norse, Greece, Rome and the likes there were varies “denomination” (i.e.: Maenad for followers of Dionysus). Likewise, like our times I am sure individuals would be placed off with “umbrella” terms.
     
    For me personally: I go by the mantra, “Only you can define yourself. Nobody else for their thoughts is simply opinions. Opinions don’t determine the whole of you.” Do what makes you feel comfortable and that include how you define your practices. BB!

    • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

      Apologies: I didn’t answer the question. No, if someone objects to be called Pagan but rather Reconstructionist, polytheist, or henotheist (which that is what I like to define myself as, henotheist) I don’t see it as a “threat” or “challenge” of my belief or the fact I have no issues calling myself Pagan. As Haitian-American and my experiences: I know many Vodou practitioners get upset with the use of polytheist and much prefer to use monotheist (since there is one supreme being). I, personally, prefer the polytheist. I’ve seen this indifference in Hinduism, as well—some prefer monotheist and others polytheist.   

      • Erin

        The only difference is that Vouduns and Hindus are neither Neopagans nor Reconstructionist Polytheists; they are their own distinct cultural and religious communities.  They are only ‘pagan’ by the Judeo-Christian religious definition, which is different and separate from identifying with the Neopagan movement, which they do not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

    I appreciate the mantra “words have power” For they do. Yet, I come from a “school of thought” that words are neutral- we, as individuals, place our emotions, meaning, and experience to into the words. Some words are not offensive to others and other words are. I believe individuals should call themselves whatever they feel comfortable with.
     
    I use the word “Pagan” to describe myself with individuals outside the Abraham religion. Surprising many individuals “understand” that and would further ask me if I practice Wicca, African-Traditionalist Spirituality, and the likes. Similar to a Christian. I ask if they are Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, and the likes. Even in ancient Paganism of Celts, Norse, Greece, Rome and the likes there were varies “denomination” (i.e.: Maenad for followers of Dionysus). Likewise, like our times I am sure individuals would be placed off with “umbrella” terms.
     
    For me personally: I go by the mantra, “Only you can define yourself. Nobody else for their thoughts is simply opinions. Opinions don’t determine the whole of you.” Do what makes you feel comfortable and that include how you define your practices. BB!

    • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

      Apologies: I didn’t answer the question. No, if someone objects to be called Pagan but rather Reconstructionist, polytheist, or henotheist (which that is what I like to define myself as, henotheist) I don’t see it as a “threat” or “challenge” of my belief or the fact I have no issues calling myself Pagan. As Haitian-American and my experiences: I know many Vodou practitioners get upset with the use of polytheist and much prefer to use monotheist (since there is one supreme being). I, personally, prefer the polytheist. I’ve seen this indifference in Hinduism, as well—some prefer monotheist and others polytheist.   

      • Erin

        The only difference is that Vouduns and Hindus are neither Neopagans nor Reconstructionist Polytheists; they are their own distinct cultural and religious communities.  They are only ‘pagan’ by the Judeo-Christian religious definition, which is different and separate from identifying with the Neopagan movement, which they do not.

  • Kelledia

     It seems that just as we are on the cusp of making real breakthroughs towards social inclusion within the US, the very thing that got us here is being diluted and weakened. Most non-Pagan people have a hard, if not impossible time wrapping their heads around the many permutations of polytheistic religions.  Presenting that unified front can offer us gains not only in an abstract sense, but in the day-to-day matters which are far more important. As a member of ADF and a Celtic Reconstructionist, I see no disharmony between the two practices; I’m okay with Pagan, as it’s only a first step towards greater understanding.

  • Kelledia

     It seems that just as we are on the cusp of making real breakthroughs towards social inclusion within the US, the very thing that got us here is being diluted and weakened. Most non-Pagan people have a hard, if not impossible time wrapping their heads around the many permutations of polytheistic religions.  Presenting that unified front can offer us gains not only in an abstract sense, but in the day-to-day matters which are far more important. As a member of ADF and a Celtic Reconstructionist, I see no disharmony between the two practices; I’m okay with Pagan, as it’s only a first step towards greater understanding.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1226891346 Cara Schulz

    I think this comment by Drew (on his blog in the comments section) is the most thought-provoking part of his article, “When the majority of our community feels perfectly at home with Hindus
    (no education needed), yet disconnected from Pagans (regardless of how
    much education is done), I think it’s fair to say we’re just a different
    type of religion.”

    My question is…”What now?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

      Deal with it?  Accept it? 

      Once the esoteric practices and “woo”, eat up the dogma and “crunch” then the system has been left behind.  At the point where anything goes, nothing is settled, resolved or knowable.  Where everything is sacred, nothing is.  There ceases to be a common language and terms to discuss, let alone a ethic or moral purpose or guidelines. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1226891346 Cara Schulz

    I think this comment by Drew (on his blog in the comments section) is the most thought-provoking part of his article, “When the majority of our community feels perfectly at home with Hindus
    (no education needed), yet disconnected from Pagans (regardless of how
    much education is done), I think it’s fair to say we’re just a different
    type of religion.”

    My question is…”What now?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

      Deal with it?  Accept it? 

      Once the esoteric practices and “woo”, eat up the dogma and “crunch” then the system has been left behind.  At the point where anything goes, nothing is settled, resolved or knowable.  Where everything is sacred, nothing is.  There ceases to be a common language and terms to discuss, let alone a ethic or moral purpose or guidelines. 

  • Mark

    Well, I left Paganism because it is credulous and superstitious. When I first got involved, it seemed to me that there was a general agreement among most, at least, of the (SF Bay-area) Pagans I was working and having community with that gods and magic were **metaphors and psychologically/spiritually beneficial practices**, as opposed there literally being Invisible Friends Who Run Things and Listen to Humans, and to Chanting and Waving a Stick in the Air Resulting in Physical Events Hundreds of Miles Away.

    I’ve had to back away from all that and frame a nature-focused ritual spirituality that is scientific, rather than credulous, in perspective

    • Mark

      “…as opposed TO there literally being…” Sorry, dropped a word.

    • sindarintech

      Mark, your post confused me. Do you approach the sacred/gods/magic as metaphorical or as literal? The metaphor thing seemed to be running it’s course through some trads for a few years, and it never worked for me. I think the psychological aspects are helpful in personal growth, but they’re far different from connecting to actual deities. The deities in my trad are approached as real beings… not psychological structures. That’s just one reason why I work in my tradition.

      • Mark

        Metaphorical. There is absolutely no compelling evidence that gods exist, except in our minds, which are, of course, full of confirmation bias and wishful thinking. To me, what is actually likely to be *true* as opposed to “cool” or “spiritually pleasing to believe” really matters, and gods fall apart pretty quickly to anyone with even a moderate understanding of physics and the scientific method. There is no phenomenon in the Universe for which a god is a good explanation.

        • sindarintech

          Thanks for the reply! So what’s the benefit of believing in metaphorical beings vs. being an atheist? If the gods are metaphorical, and exist only as figments of our own imagination, wouldn’t it be better to just be an atheist? I’d be interested in what some of the folks have to say about this… :-)

          • Mark

            I *am* an atheist, in that I do not believe in gods. The “benefit” is that instead of being a credulous subscriber to ideas that don’t hold up to any reasonable standards of evidence or reason, being an atheist means you are actually seeing the world as it almost certainly really IS: a physical, evolving process without invisible intelligences, a “cosmic plan” for individuals other than the steady unfolding of physical processes, and no afterlife. In other words, you are realistic.

            However, unlike many atheists, I understand that religiosity isn’t just some cultural accident or leftover product of more ignorant times: it provides important and valuable services to human life and human societies in terms of creating community around shared values, celebrating cycles and transitions in life, and developing a sense of meaning and purpose in existence. This is really what religious observance does, functionally…and you don’t have to believe in gods to have all that. You can still enact rituals, observe holidays, and have community that isn’t based in made-up stuff, but in reality–and it feels just as meaningful.

            I spent 20 years in the Pagan community until I couldn’t stand it any more: the willful adherence to superstition, the use of “the gods’ will” as excuses for awful behavior, the loopy credulity in meanings ascribed to random patterns such as a layout of tarot cards.  

            This is better. I no longer feel I am insulting my intelligence with my spiritual practice.

          • Mark

            I should be clear, also: I don’t “believe” in “metaphorical gods”, either. For the many years I self-identified as Pagan, I saw the gods as metaphorical ideas that represented various elements of human experience. But it became clear to me that the people around me actually *believed* in them, which is so rationally indefensible that I just had to stop. I still completely embrace the core values of the Paganism I practiced: the environmentalism, the tolerance of diffference and egalitarianism, the pleasure-positiveness, etc. But you don’t have to believe in gods to live through those values, or to practice rituals and observances that enact them in a meaningful way. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/ThormodMorrisson Páll Thormod Morrisson

            I can relate to many of the points you made, Mark. Very well put.

          • Mark

            Thanks!

          • sindarintech

            Mark, wow… thank you for taking the time to reply back. Your post is highly relevent to what I’ve been working through over the last months. I think your term ‘loopy credulity’ is a great one!

            Getting to Star’s question: Yes, pagans do bring me down. I’ve found that I can deal with them one on one, but once the group starts getting too large the collective intelligence seems to diminish logarthmically. I don’t think it needs to be like that and it surprises me everytime. Back in my Reclaiming days I started hearing the term UPG (unverifiable personal gnosis) bandied about. It became clear to me that it was a term that drama queens created to justify their b.s. ‘gnosis’ and bad behavior. I’ll believe personal gnosis when someone unveils deeper secrets of the universe that are verifiable via science. Otherwise it’s just someones opinion… and it usually has little to do with fact. Or reality.

            Lots to think about here… Thank you!!

          • Mark

            Thank YOU–I was hesitant to say anything (not wanted to get flamed), and the fact that I’ve been dealt with respectfully and two people have even resonated to my experience and perspective speaks really well of the community on this blog.

          • Henry

            Hmm are ‘gods’ purely a subjective phenomena or an objective one?
            All I can say is, with having a very solid background in science, to me, they are real enough. Purely subjective yet empirical experiences on my part. Take them or leave them as you will. I don’t however subscribe to the usual notions,definitions of ‘gods’. I’m not about to rule out that there are differing levels of sentience/consciousness/intelligences ‘out there’.
            I also think certain recent quantum particle physics experments are beginning to touch upon those realms.

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 Arden White

            I’m hesitant about invoking quantum theory myself, but I would like to say I agree with this. Experiences matter. A lot of atheists just don’t seem to know about pragmatism, and the fact that William James solved a lot of these philosophical quandries a century ago, but what can you do. (With apologies to Mark: as a fellow non-literalist, I thank you heartily for recognizing the value in certain religious functions, and I can certainly relate on many levels to your exasperation.) 

            Philosophically I am a perfect agnostic on the subject of materialism, but for all functional purposes, when I put on my religion hat (and carefully set aside my metaphysics hat and politics hat), I act as a polytheist and *really do* believe in the gods. All that matters are my religious *experiences* Maybe they are entities that take form through my imagination; I don’t care, because our imaginations are enormous places, and either way they’re bigger than me and revering them makes my life richer, which in turn makes it of more worth to the world.

          • Kerry W.

            I strongly suspect the gods (and other beings I encounter with senses other than the standard five) aren’t figments of my imagination, because the confirmation bias is so often missing — they say things that I didn’t want to hear, didn’t see coming, or just completely come out of left field. 

            It’s not exactly something you could repeat in a laboratory, though, and I sure don’t expect anyone who doesn’t experience the same thing to hold the same belief.

          • Henry

            ah but those types of experiences are beginning to be repeated in a ‘laboratory’.
            check out some of the work by Ramachandran, Beauregard and Persinger. Try a search for the ‘god spot’ or ‘god helmet’.
            There’s all sorts of interesting and dare I say exciting exploration in regards to ‘religious’ thinking and practice and it’s relation to brain development, starting with a rather obscure Princeton Psychologist, Julian Jaynes. Perhaps metaphorical gods had more of an influence than otherwise thought ;-)

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 Arden White

            See, I’m with William Blake: I think the Imagination is holy, and vast, and quite capable of saying things you don’t want to hear, didn’t see coming, or just completely come out of left field. We are far more than our egos. 

          • Mark

            I’m sorry–I beg to differ. Empirical experience is simply not credible evidence, as human perception is a massive tissue of projected pattern recognition, confirmation bias, filtration and interpretation.All of which has been well-documented scientifically, up to and including identification of that part of the brain which, when stimulated, provokes a profound religious experience of being connected to a great deific presence. 

            Experiences do NOT matter when it comes to determining what is most likely to be true about the Universe. They only matter to *us* as subjective beings, negotiating the landscapes of our lives. 

            Yes, experiences can make your life richer…even if they’re delusional. That’s why people take hallucinogens. But I am interested in Truth–more precisely, from a scientific perspective, in what is *most likely* to be True. Gods do not fit within that. Someday, maybe there will be some evidence that they do, but I sincerely doubt it.

          • Henry

            “All of which has been well-documented scientifically, up to and including identification of that part of the brain which, when stimulated, provokes a profound religious experience of being connected to a great deific presence.”
            Ah it would seem we’re wired to have such an experience. Wonder why that is? pretty interesting eh?

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            But I am interested in Truth–more precisely, from a scientific
            perspective, in what is *most likely* to be True. Gods do not fit within
            that.

            You clearly don’t understand how science works.  Science is not about Truth, but about accurate and predictive models.

          • Mark

            You have just agreed with me.

            I have not stated that science is about “Truth”. But science IS about what is most likely to be true–as you put it, the development of “accurate and predictive models” which are explanatory of the verifiable phenomena of the Universe. In other words, about determining what is most likely to be true about what exists and the mechanisms which lead to these phenomena.
            If there is little or no evidence for the existence of a phenomenon other than subjective anecdote and wishful thinking, and further, the proposed phenomenon is inconsistent with much of the rest of what is known with high degrees of confidence to be true, the proposed phenomenon is highly unlikely to exist. Which is why so many who are credulous in supernatural phenomena tend to want to wave the magic wand of placing the unlikely phenomena they believe in in a “special zone” of the Universe that is not subject to scientific inquiry.

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 Arden White

            You seem to be suggesting that I believe my experiences mean the gods are really really literally real, which is a point I am ENTIRELY uninterested in making; I know all about confirmation bias and filtration. There’s that philosophy I mentioned, you know, called Pragmatism, which talks about this sort of thing and makes religious belief quite usable without superstition. 

            You, like many, seem to have a very overblown idea of what science is actually capable of. Science is a methodology, not a philosophy, and while it is the unquestioned master of its domain, its power comes from its precision in rigor in the *places where it can make reasonable claims*. Those places exclude many areas of human interest, and rarely include the realms of subjectivity. We can benefit from what limited insights science can make regarding subjectivity, but those insights are useless without wisdom (which is quite out of the domain of science; science can only inform it). The various philosophies of science may enlighten you regarding the real issues at stake here — the scientific method is by no means unproblematic or uncontested, and while I respect your attempt to assert its importance (god knows our culture needs it), I honestly don’t think your notions regarding its ability to find “what is likely to be True” are helping anybody get anywhere with their lives. 

            Your talk of hallucinogens honestly belies you; you don’t understand the nature of delusions at all, in any psychological sense, and you certainly don’t understand the science behind hallucinogens. Hallucinogens do not present you with a false view of the world. They alter your perception. There is a difference.

          • Mark

            DF, I’m afraid it is you who has an incomplete and/or incorrect understanding of the scientific method. While you may choose–or not–actual belief in supernatural phenomena, you make the same error that so many do in discounting science as a “philosophy” and in arbitrarily deciding that there are phenomena in the Universe to which it cannot apply. Cf http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028160.200-a-field-guide-to-bullshit.html

            I have an intimate and thorough understanding of the science behind hallucinogens, and they do, indeed, distort your perceptual array so that you see (and, in many cases, believe), things that are not there: they are chemically induced artifacts manufactured by your brain while under the influence of the chemical. That is a false view of the world, whatever meaning you may choose to construct and attach to the experience. There is no difference.

            The point being that experience is so subjective as to be unreliable and without credibility in helping to determine what is true about the nature of the Universe. While you may not find that helpful in “getting anywhere with your life”, I do, and I think many others do, too. Personally, I am far more interested in a cosmology that has a high probability of being true than in drinking some kind of Kool-Aid that makes me believe a pretty story about gods and magic and a mythic subtext that suffuses the Universe in some untestable manner. I choose a path with minimal probability of being delusional. You don’t have to, but please, don’t try to tell me that just because I don’t arbitrarily and without justification decide that some of what I believe isn’t subject to critical thinking, that makes *me* the one who isn’t thinking clearly.

          • Windweaver

            I’m afraid that I have to disagree with Mark here… I find the concept of unguided evolution to be very unlikely. the universe that we live in is, in my opinion, far too complex to have happened completely by accident. The way the earth is set up to balance itself is very well engineered. With animals taking in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide, while plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen as just one small example.

            I’m afraid that I find the concept that something as highly developed as the human body could have evolved completely by accident from single celled creatures to be totally ludicrous. When you consider the way the hands work to do very fine detailed work, while at the same time having the strength to do some of the things people do it seems to me very fine engineering was at work.

            I don’t buy into the creation as taught by the Christian churches, but I’m afraid that I feel that something had to have been guiding the way the earth turned out {before we screwed it up} for it to have the complicated balance that it has for supporting life.

          • sindarintech

            You might not buy into Christian Creationism, but that’s pretty much what you just described. I think it’s really difficult for us to appreciate the evolution of complex systems over time, particularly when those periods greatly exceed our small lifespans. We really just can’t wrap our experiences (and heads) around it. My only suggestion would be to read more high-quality science books about what we currently understand about evolutionary processes. And keep in mind that we’re talking about billions and billions of years. Personally, I think it’s absurd to think that planets CAN’T evolve life-sustaining eco-systems on their own. There are billions and billions of planets ‘out there’ and a portion of them do support life. We don’t need a creator (or helper aliens) to have life.

          • Windweaver

            Actually almost all of the old religions had their own tales of the creation of man and earth. You’re free to have your beliefs, but when it comes to religion, it generally indicates the belief in some form of higher power. Besides isn’t it really more likely that something as complex as the universe and our world evolved from an engineered plan, rather than by accident? As far as there being other planets that would support life, that hasn’t been proven, but is a viable theory…

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 Arden White

            To say the world is too complex to have evolved on its own belies your paradigm. You’re looking at things from “the world was created by a higher power” angle and imprinting your arguments about the universe from there. 

            If you are interested in really understanding alternative views of the matter, I’d suggest you do some searching on atheistic response to this (there are books’ worth), and study evolution a bit more closely. I am not an atheist myself, but I generally condone accepting the world in all its complexity without simplifying it and reducing it, as you’re doing, to be honest. 

          • Windweaver

            Actually I’m not really simplifying it. I’m looking closely at how complex it really is, and considering just how likely it is to have happened, the way it is, without some form of guidance… By the way, I’m not looking at it based on the creation aspect so much as viewing the complexities of things and pondering the likelihood that the way the universe, the world, and even humankind function could have happened entirely by accident.

            Consider the human hand. In some people strong enough to crush things, in others capable of such delicate work as to make the mind wonder. With the hand we destroy, create, kill, and heal. if you really look at the way it works. The way it functions. Can you truly believe that it came about by accident? Or is it the most amazing feat of engineering in the universe?

            You can believe as you wish, but I believe that the Gods are quite real, and supervised the evolution of the universe and our world.

          • Kerry W.

            I would implore Windweaver to read about the Watchmaker analogy.  There are a few hundred years of rich thought on the matter, well worth knowing about.

          • Windweaver

            Alright, I read it. I also read some interesting discussions about it. what I got out of the whole experience is that neither side could really make any firm viable conclusions about their side of the discussions. I had an interesting discussion with a person who was studying comparative religions and put forth the question of…

            What if God {or Gods, Goddesses, etc for discussion purposes I’ll just be using the term God} didn’t just create the universe, but actually was the universe. The theory that everything that exists isn’t outside of God, and being watched from a distance, but actually was a part of God, and therefore was sensed and felt, and controlled from within rather than from without.

            The man’s reaction was really quite interesting as you can probably guess. But the more he thought about it, the more he wondered. Later he was talking about how this would explain God being aware of everything that happens, due to the fact that all things were a part of him.

            Have you ever heard of the philosophy of the “Tree of Life”? it teaches that all things are connected. This is in fact one of the reasons that magic actually works. There’s something that connects us to the things and people around us. In magic we learn that there are five elements and that the fifth of these is Spirit, which connects all things together.

            You can believe if you want that there aren’t Gods of Goddesses, but Then that wouldn’t be religion, Would it? I’ll continue to believe that there’s something there that’s greater than us and that we’re all part of…

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            You can believe if you want that there aren’t Gods of Goddesses, but Then that wouldn’t be religion, Would it?

            Wrong.  The older traditions of Buddhism are atheist, as are many of the traditional cultures throughout the world (including in Africa, Australia, and the Americas).  Those traditional cultures honor various Holy Powers, but none of them are gods.

            Please take an introductory course in world religions.

          • Windweaver

            Perhaps I should have used the term “higher power”. Religion indicates worship… Many of the traditions you made reference to would be more classified as Philosophies, than Religions.

          • Mark

            Actually, not. Religion does not require belief in a “higher” power, nor “worship” in a sense of obsequious adoration. The parental model of relationship to the greater cosmos is only the most dominant, not the only approach.

          • Mark

            For considerable detail on this–as well as why it is both desirable and more grounded in likely truth about the nature of the Universe–you could read the essay I linked to below.

          • Mark

            Yes…and the thing about “ancient wisdom” is that it is usually neither.

            Once, we knew little about the Universe, and we made up stories to fill in the gaps of our ignorance. We aren’t so ignorant any longer, and there is really no place for gods in the well-documented cosmology of modern science.

            As referenced above, I believe there is, however, a pertinent and powerful role in our lives for religious practice. I simply choose not to include superstition in mine.

          • Erin

            Hello!  I think this is a confusion between literal/scientific reality and mythic reality.  Science and Myth exist in their own realms and serve very different but equally important functions.  Myth isn’t meant to explain the nuts-and-bolts that Science is meant to; it is meant to explain -why- those things happened, and what makes them relevant to us.  Each culture has their own Mythic orientation to the world.  One tribe may understand perfectly that the starts are only visible at night because the sun shines too brightly during the day for them to be seen, but will still teach a story about them only being seen at night because that is when the spirits of their ancestors come out, to watch over them while they sleep.  They are capable of holding these two realities in each hand, side by side, without contradiction, because they serve two completely different purposes and meet different needs.  One is objective, one is relative.  Mythic/imaginative reality is just another kind of reality, which clearly our brains are wired for.  Relating with it responsibly, rather than making it an excuse for bad behavior, is the more important thing to keep in mind.  Let Myth and Science each serve their purpose, and the struggle between them evaporates.

          • Mark

            Hi, Erin. I both agree and disagree with you. I wouldn’t call this a “confusion”–as the physical Universe has an objective nature no matter what opinions we have about it. 

            Myth, on the other hand, is invented: it’s is the stories we make up to provide meaning, moral instruction, or even entertainment in relation to the phenomena of the Universe. But such stories are not “reality” in the sense that the physical Universe is “real”, no matter how fervently we may believe them.I agree: “let Myth and Science each serve their purpose”…but don’t forget that one is fiction and one is fact (or, more precisely, what is most likely to be fact based on the current state of knowledge). One is a metaphorical game of let’s-pretend that we engage in to enrich our lives and build community; the other leads to knowledge about the actual Universe that is out there beyond our skins, beyond our brains, and would be here whether we were or not.

          • Windweaver

            It seems to me that you make a lot of judgement calls on the origins of Myth… You also state the same source as the origin of the Gods. It seems to me that you put a great deal of effort into not only refusing to believe anything that you don’t read from “scientific sources” but try very hard to make sure that nobody else believes in anything either.

            You accuse others of making assumptions, but you make quite a few yourself. For instance the assumption that just because something can’t be proved by scientific method, that it isn’t real. 

            there is a very long history of people saying thing were absolute “truth” only to have it proven later that were quite wrong.

            Knowledge can only enter an OPEN mind…

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            I agree: “let Myth and Science each serve their purpose”…but don’t
            forget that one is fiction and one is fact (or, more precisely, what is
            most likely to be fact based on the current state of knowledge).

            Wrong.  Both are types of stories we tell. 

            One critical thing that people forget about the natural sciences is that they are *natural* sciences.  That is, the disciplines have made a conscious choice to only study the physical world.  As my lodgemate, who is a professor of physics and astronomy and is a theoretical physicist who studies large-scale general relativity, puts it, “We choose the easy problems.”  By that, he means that the natural sciences, and physics in particular, only studies aspects of reality that behave in predictable ways.  He is also a devout Christian and Hermeticist, because he knows that physics can’t address issues of spirit, consciousness, or ultimate reality.

            You can choose to be an atheist, but that is a *religious* position.  To believe that there is no god(s) is a religious belief.  Given that one of the fundamental principles in science is that one can’t prove a negative, the only position that can be reached by reason is agnosticism.

          • Mark

            I’m sorry, but with all due respect, you really don’t seem to know what you’re talking about.

            I am unaware of any credible evidence that there is anything but a physical world–the idea that there is anything more than this appears to be a popular myth. No, you can’t prove a negative…but you CAN prove–or at least, show as very likely to be true–a positive claim, and no one has ever been able to get anywhere close to doing so in relation to gods, physically effective magic, disembodied intelligences, etc. Accordingly, it is unreasonable to believe in these. No proof of a negative is required; the burden of proof rests with those making extraordinarily unlikely claims.An atheist like me believes what science shows to be most likely to be true, and is open to changing her/his mind if compelling evidence to justify that change comes along. In the case of gods and other superstitious credulities, none ever has been, so I don’t believe in them. Religion, on the other hand, adopts or dismisses evidence in order to reinforce what it has already elected to believe. The two are complete inverses of one another. When the superstitious choose to attempt to put those who apply critical thinking and the scientific method in the same credulous basket as themselves, it shows two things: lack of understanding of what these analytical processes truly mean, and the deep insecurity they carry that drives the need to be “just as scientific” as those who believe in no gods.

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            Most of the old religions did not have creation stories of the whole cosmos.  Most of them had stories that assume that the cosmos existed, and then relate how something specific (for example, humanity) came into being.  Some mythologists prefer to class such stories as “origin stories” in distinction from “creation stories”.

          • Mark

            Windweaver, there are a lot of assumptions you make about the nature of the physical world here that aren’t accurate, and it would be good for your understanding of them to do some exploring.

            For example, the CO2/O2 balance: this isn’t either a happy coincidence or a magical/godly act–it is the dynamic stasis formed when the earliest life (which consumed CO2 and excreted O2) grew in population to the point that the atmosphere became choked with its waste product (O2). At that point, a tremendous collapse in population occurred, and organisms which could metabolize the waste product evolved, because they had to (which is what drives every evolutionary adaptation). This is well-documented in the fossil record–the current rough balance between CO2 and O2 consumers was settled into only after billions of years of fluctuating swings settled down. No gods were required, nor is there any evidence that any were involved.

            One of the lynchpins of deific credulity is an axiom that “if it’s too complicated for me to understand, it must have been done by supernatural forces.” But that’s a magic-wand explanation, when there are other, much more reasonable and evidence-backed explanations which are far more likely to be true.

          • Windweaver

            You can quote the documentation but that does in no way prove that the evolution of the universe and the places and creatures in it wasn’t guided by The Gods and Goddesses that have been worshiped throughout history. For all the science based rhetoric you keep quoting there are many people, myself included, that have a very personal relationship with the Gods and Goddesses and have very good reasons to believe in them.

            You have a right to be an atheist. We have a right to believe. It’s that simple.

            There really is no way whatsoever to prove any of this conclusively so sometimes you just have to accept a different point of view.

          • Mark

            Windweaver, a negative cannot be proved. You are correct in this. Accordingly, it cannot be proven that the Universe was produced by the collision of a rainbow-colored unicorn with a 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air.

            But I kind of doubt it.

            The point is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that…nor is there a reason–to those who are informed about the current state of science–to believe in gods.

            You choose to do so–okay, that’s your right. But please, don’t try to use tools of logic and evidence to support your choice, because they do not support your position. Just say, “I choose to believe this because I like my life better that way,” and be done with it. That, I can respect. 

          • Mark

            (Sorry, should have read “was NOT produced by a collision…”

          • Windweaver

            Actually I’ve seen little evidence to prove that at some time, millions of years ago, some single celled critter decided to evolve and eventually become a creature that walks on two legs, thinks in abstract terms, and is capable of creating great works of art.

            I’ve seen evidence that there has been evolution in the universe and on this earth, but haven’t seen anything that would really tie together an ancient single celled animal, and Modern human beings.

            Much of evolution is still very much theory. Assumptions based on other assumptions based on other assumptions. Show me anything resembling hard evidence that humankind evolved from single celled animals, and I might see where you’re using actual tools of logic rather than simply telling us what you read somewhere…

          • Mark

            Windweaver, you really need to stop. Your described belief system is fine if it’s what you want to do, but there isn’t an evolutionary biologist on the planet would agree with you, and it’s apparent that you don’t really have a groundedness in the science involved here at all, nor familiarity with the available evidence. Which, BTW, is very, very well documented, and has actually been observed both in the laboratory and the field.

            Unlike religion, you don’t just get to make up logic, evidence and science. I have *taught* logic at a university, so you’re probably not in a position to lecture me on the subject.  Believe what you like, but don’t tell me it’s logically credible: what you have posted to this blog has not met that standard.

          • Windweaver

            And you have still shown me no evidence of the degree of evolution of which you’re speaking. By the way, as far as logic goes, Logic can have more twists and turns than the coastal highways in Europe.

            You have no idea what my education level is either, or what my specialties of study have been…

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            Windweaver,

            Take a course or three in evolutionary biology.  All the evidence is there.  You just have to take the time to learn it.  (If evolution wasn’t an accurate description of what happened, the discipline of molecular and cellular biology couldn’t exist.)

            By the way, the term “theory” in science does NOT mean “unproven speculation”.  It means something along the lines of “a model accurately and predictively describing complex processes in the natural world”.  Gravitation is also described by theory, and you’ll still fall down.  (The “law of gravity” is simply one equation describing certain predictable behaviors that the larger theory of gravitation is required to account for.)

            Any time someone says “X is just a theory” about anything scientific, that individual has just demonstrated that s/he doesn’t understand how science works.

          • Mark

            Evolution from single-celled to multicellular organisms has now been replicated in a laboratory.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028184.300-lab-yeast-make-evolutionary-leap-to-multicellularity.html

          • Windweaver

            I read the article, and took note of the scientist that stated that this really wasn’t conclusive due to the fact that yeast, far in the past had a multicellular structural tendency anyways, and that the scientist that created the experiment probably chose the yeast for that reason. he indicated that genetic memory might have had much to do with it as well as the confined nature of the yeast.

  • Mark

    Well, I left Paganism because it is credulous and superstitious. When I first got involved, it seemed to me that there was a general agreement among most, at least, of the (SF Bay-area) Pagans I was working and having community with that gods and magic were **metaphors and psychologically/spiritually beneficial practices**, as opposed there literally being Invisible Friends Who Run Things and Listen to Humans, and to Chanting and Waving a Stick in the Air Resulting in Physical Events Hundreds of Miles Away.

    I’ve had to back away from all that and frame a nature-focused ritual spirituality that is scientific, rather than credulous, in perspective

    • Mark

      “…as opposed TO there literally being…” Sorry, dropped a word.

    • Anonymous

      Mark, your post confused me. Do you approach the sacred/gods/magic as metaphorical or as literal? The metaphor thing seemed to be running it’s course through some trads for a few years, and it never worked for me. I think the psychological aspects are helpful in personal growth, but they’re far different from connecting to actual deities. The deities in my trad are approached as real beings… not psychological structures. That’s just one reason why I work in my tradition.

      • Mark

        Metaphorical. There is absolutely no compelling evidence that gods exist, except in our minds, which are, of course, full of confirmation bias and wishful thinking. To me, what is actually likely to be *true* as opposed to “cool” or “spiritually pleasing to believe” really matters, and gods fall apart pretty quickly to anyone with even a moderate understanding of physics and the scientific method. There is no phenomenon in the Universe for which a god is a good explanation.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for the reply! So what’s the benefit of believing in metaphorical beings vs. being an atheist? If the gods are metaphorical, and exist only as figments of our own imagination, wouldn’t it be better to just be an atheist? I’d be interested in what some of the folks have to say about this… :-)

          • Mark

            I *am* an atheist, in that I do not believe in gods. The “benefit” is that instead of being a credulous subscriber to ideas that don’t hold up to any reasonable standards of evidence or reason, being an atheist means you are actually seeing the world as it almost certainly really IS: a physical, evolving process without invisible intelligences, a “cosmic plan” for individuals other than the steady unfolding of physical processes, and no afterlife. In other words, you are realistic.

            However, unlike many atheists, I understand that religiosity isn’t just some cultural accident or leftover product of more ignorant times: it provides important and valuable services to human life and human societies in terms of creating community around shared values, celebrating cycles and transitions in life, and developing a sense of meaning and purpose in existence. This is really what religious observance does, functionally…and you don’t have to believe in gods to have all that. You can still enact rituals, observe holidays, and have community that isn’t based in made-up stuff, but in reality–and it feels just as meaningful.

            I spent 20 years in the Pagan community until I couldn’t stand it any more: the willful adherence to superstition, the use of “the gods’ will” as excuses for awful behavior, the loopy credulity in meanings ascribed to random patterns such as a layout of tarot cards.  

            This is better. I no longer feel I am insulting my intelligence with my spiritual practice.

          • Mark

            I should be clear, also: I don’t “believe” in “metaphorical gods”, either. For the many years I self-identified as Pagan, I saw the gods as metaphorical ideas that represented various elements of human experience. But it became clear to me that the people around me actually *believed* in them, which is so rationally indefensible that I just had to stop. I still completely embrace the core values of the Paganism I practiced: the environmentalism, the tolerance of diffference and egalitarianism, the pleasure-positiveness, etc. But you don’t have to believe in gods to live through those values, or to practice rituals and observances that enact them in a meaningful way. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/ThormodMorrisson Páll Thormod Morrisson

            I can relate to many of the points you made, Mark. Very well put.

          • Mark

            Thanks!

          • Anonymous

            Mark, wow… thank you for taking the time to reply back. Your post is highly relevent to what I’ve been working through over the last months. I think your term ‘loopy credulity’ is a great one!

            Getting to Star’s question: Yes, pagans do bring me down. I’ve found that I can deal with them one on one, but once the group starts getting too large the collective intelligence seems to diminish logarthmically. I don’t think it needs to be like that and it surprises me everytime. Back in my Reclaiming days I started hearing the term UPG (unverifiable personal gnosis) bandied about. It became clear to me that it was a term that drama queens created to justify their b.s. ‘gnosis’ and bad behavior. I’ll believe personal gnosis when someone unveils deeper secrets of the universe that are verifiable via science. Otherwise it’s just someones opinion… and it usually has little to do with fact. Or reality.

            Lots to think about here… Thank you!!

          • Mark

            Thank YOU–I was hesitant to say anything (not wanted to get flamed), and the fact that I’ve been dealt with respectfully and two people have even resonated to my experience and perspective speaks really well of the community on this blog.

          • Henry

            Hmm are ‘gods’ purely a subjective phenomena or an objective one?
            All I can say is, with having a very solid background in science, to me, they are real enough. Purely subjective yet empirical experiences on my part. Take them or leave them as you will. I don’t however subscribe to the usual notions,definitions of ‘gods’. I’m not about to rule out that there are differing levels of sentience/consciousness/intelligences ‘out there’.
            I also think certain recent quantum particle physics experments are beginning to touch upon those realms.

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 digital flaneur

            I’m hesitant about invoking quantum theory myself, but I would like to say I agree with this. Experiences matter. A lot of atheists just don’t seem to know about pragmatism, and the fact that William James solved a lot of these philosophical quandries a century ago, but what can you do. (With apologies to Mark: as a fellow non-literalist, I thank you heartily for recognizing the value in certain religious functions, and I can certainly relate on many levels to your exasperation.) 

            Philosophically I am a perfect agnostic on the subject of materialism, but for all functional purposes, when I put on my religion hat (and carefully set aside my metaphysics hat and politics hat), I act as a polytheist and *really do* believe in the gods. All that matters are my religious *experiences* Maybe they are entities that take form through my imagination; I don’t care, because our imaginations are enormous places, and either way they’re bigger than me and revering them makes my life richer, which in turn makes it of more worth to the world.

          • Kerry W.

            I strongly suspect the gods (and other beings I encounter with senses other than the standard five) aren’t figments of my imagination, because the confirmation bias is so often missing — they say things that I didn’t want to hear, didn’t see coming, or just completely come out of left field. 

            It’s not exactly something you could repeat in a laboratory, though, and I sure don’t expect anyone who doesn’t experience the same thing to hold the same belief.

          • Henry

            ah but those types of experiences are beginning to be repeated in a ‘laboratory’.
            check out some of the work by Ramachandran, Beauregard and Persinger. Try a search for the ‘god spot’ or ‘god helmet’.
            There’s all sorts of interesting and dare I say exciting exploration in regards to ‘religious’ thinking and practice and it’s relation to brain development, starting with a rather obscure Princeton Psychologist, Julian Jaynes. Perhaps metaphorical gods had more of an influence than otherwise thought ;-)

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 digital flaneur

            See, I’m with William Blake: I think the Imagination is holy, and vast, and quite capable of saying things you don’t want to hear, didn’t see coming, or just completely come out of left field. We are far more than our egos. 

          • Mark

            I’m sorry–I beg to differ. Empirical experience is simply not credible evidence, as human perception is a massive tissue of projected pattern recognition, confirmation bias, filtration and interpretation.All of which has been well-documented scientifically, up to and including identification of that part of the brain which, when stimulated, provokes a profound religious experience of being connected to a great deific presence. 

            Experiences do NOT matter when it comes to determining what is most likely to be true about the Universe. They only matter to *us* as subjective beings, negotiating the landscapes of our lives. 

            Yes, experiences can make your life richer…even if they’re delusional. That’s why people take hallucinogens. But I am interested in Truth–more precisely, from a scientific perspective, in what is *most likely* to be True. Gods do not fit within that. Someday, maybe there will be some evidence that they do, but I sincerely doubt it.

          • Henry

            “All of which has been well-documented scientifically, up to and including identification of that part of the brain which, when stimulated, provokes a profound religious experience of being connected to a great deific presence.”
            Ah it would seem we’re wired to have such an experience. Wonder why that is? pretty interesting eh?

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            But I am interested in Truth–more precisely, from a scientific
            perspective, in what is *most likely* to be True. Gods do not fit within
            that.

            You clearly don’t understand how science works.  Science is not about Truth, but about accurate and predictive models.

          • Mark

            You have just agreed with me.

            I have not stated that science is about “Truth”. But science IS about what is most likely to be true–as you put it, the development of “accurate and predictive models” which are explanatory of the verifiable phenomena of the Universe. In other words, about determining what is most likely to be true about what exists and the mechanisms which lead to these phenomena.
            If there is little or no evidence for the existence of a phenomenon other than subjective anecdote and wishful thinking, and further, the proposed phenomenon is inconsistent with much of the rest of what is known with high degrees of confidence to be true, the proposed phenomenon is highly unlikely to exist. Which is why so many who are credulous in supernatural phenomena tend to want to wave the magic wand of placing the unlikely phenomena they believe in in a “special zone” of the Universe that is not subject to scientific inquiry.

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 digital flaneur

            Mark. I am actually sympathetic to your initial point. I am not a literalist. I believe in metaphorical reality. You seem to be suggesting that I believe my experiences mean the gods are really really literally real, which is a point I am ENTIRELY uninterested in making; I know all about confirmation bias and filtration. There’s this philosophy, you know, called Pragmatism, which talks about this sort of thing and makes religious belief quite usable without superstition. 

            You, like many, seem to have a very overblown idea of what science is actually capable of. Science is a methodology, not a philosophy, and while it is the unquestioned master of its domain, its power comes from its precision in rigor in the *places where it can make reasonable claims*. Those places exclude many areas of human interest, and rarely include the realms of subjectivity. We can benefit from what limited insights science can make regarding subjectivity, but those insights are useless without wisdom (which is quite out of the domain of science; science can only inform it). The various philosophies of science may enlighten you regarding the real issues at stake here — the scientific method is by no means unproblematic or uncontested, and while I respect your attempt to assert its importance (god knows our culture needs it), I honestly don’t think your notions regarding its ability to find “what is likely to be True” are helping anybody get anywhere with their lives. 

            Your talk of hallucinogens honestly belies you; you don’t understand the nature of delusions at all, in any psychological sense, and you certainly don’t understand the science behind hallucinogens. I’d suggest you do some reading on that, actually– you’d find it enlightening.

          • Mark

            DF, I’m afraid it is you who has an incomplete and/or incorrect understanding of the scientific method. While you may choose–or not–actual belief in supernatural phenomena, you make the same error that so many do in discounting science as a “philosophy” and in arbitrarily deciding that there are phenomena in the Universe to which it cannot apply. Cf http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028160.200-a-field-guide-to-bullshit.html

            I have an intimate and thorough understanding of the science behind hallucinogens, and they do, indeed, distort your perceptual array so that you see (and, in many cases, believe), things that are not there: they are chemically induced artifacts manufactured by your brain while under the influence of the chemical. That is a false view of the world, whatever meaning you may choose to construct and attach to the experience. There is no difference.

            The point being that experience is so subjective as to be unreliable and without credibility in helping to determine what is true about the nature of the Universe. While you may not find that helpful in “getting anywhere with your life”, I do, and I think many others do, too. Personally, I am far more interested in a cosmology that has a high probability of being true than in drinking some kind of Kool-Aid that makes me believe a pretty story about gods and magic and a mythic subtext that suffuses the Universe in some untestable manner. I choose a path with minimal probability of being delusional. You don’t have to, but please, don’t try to tell me that just because I don’t arbitrarily and without justification decide that some of what I believe isn’t subject to critical thinking, that makes *me* the one who isn’t thinking clearly.

          • Windweaver

            I’m afraid that I have to disagree with Mark here… I find the concept of unguided evolution to be very unlikely. the universe that we live in is, in my opinion, far too complex to have happened completely by accident. The way the earth is set up to balance itself is very well engineered. With animals taking in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide, while plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen as just one small example.

            I’m afraid that I find the concept that something as highly developed as the human body could have evolved completely by accident from single celled creatures to be totally ludicrous. When you consider the way the hands work to do very fine detailed work, while at the same time having the strength to do some of the things people do it seems to me very fine engineering was at work.

            I don’t buy into the creation as taught by the Christian churches, but I’m afraid that I feel that something had to have been guiding the way the earth turned out {before we screwed it up} for it to have the complicated balance that it has for supporting life.

          • Anonymous

            You might not buy into Christian Creationism, but that’s pretty much what you just described. I think it’s really difficult for us to appreciate the evolution of complex systems over time, particularly when those periods greatly exceed our small lifespans. We really just can’t wrap our experiences (and heads) around it. My only suggestion would be to read more high-quality science books about what we currently understand about evolutionary processes. And keep in mind that we’re talking about billions and billions of years. Personally, I think it’s absurd to think that planets CAN’T evolve life-sustaining eco-systems on their own. There are billions and billions of planets ‘out there’ and a portion of them do support life. We don’t need a creator (or helper aliens) to have life.

          • Windweaver

            Actually almost all of the old religions had their own tales of the creation of man and earth. You’re free to have your beliefs, but when it comes to religion, it generally indicates the belief in some form of higher power. Besides isn’t it really more likely that something as complex as the universe and our world evolved from an engineered plan, rather than by accident? As far as there being other planets that would support life, that hasn’t been proven, but is a viable theory…

          • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 digital flaneur

            To say the world is too complex to have evolved on its own belies your paradigm. You’re looking at things from “the world was created by a higher power” angle and imprinting your arguments about the universe from there. 

            If you are interested in really understanding alternative views of the matter, I’d suggest you do some searching on atheistic response to this (there are books’ worth), and study evolution a bit more closely. I am not an atheist myself, but I generally condone accepting the world in all its complexity without simplifying it and reducing it, as you’re doing, to be honest. 

          • Windweaver

            Actually I’m not really simplifying it. I’m looking closely at how complex it really is, and considering just how likely it is to have happened, the way it is, without some form of guidance… By the way, I’m not looking at it based on the creation aspect so much as viewing the complexities of things and pondering the likelihood that the way the universe, the world, and even humankind function could have happened entirely by accident.

            Consider the human hand. In some people strong enough to crush things, in others capable of such delicate work as to make the mind wonder. With the hand we destroy, create, kill, and heal. if you really look at the way it works. The way it functions. Can you truly believe that it came about by accident? Or is it the most amazing feat of engineering in the universe?

            You can believe as you wish, but I believe that the Gods are quite real, and supervised the evolution of the universe and our world.

          • Kerry W.

            I would implore Windweaver to read about the Watchmaker analogy.  There are a few hundred years of rich thought on the matter, well worth knowing about.

          • Windweaver

            Alright, I read it. I also read some interesting discussions about it. what I got out of the whole experience is that neither side could really make any firm viable conclusions about their side of the discussions. I had an interesting discussion with a person who was studying comparative religions and put forth the question of…

            What if God {or Gods, Goddesses, etc for discussion purposes I’ll just be using the term God} didn’t just create the universe, but actually was the universe. The theory that everything that exists isn’t outside of God, and being watched from a distance, but actually was a part of God, and therefore was sensed and felt, and controlled from within rather than from without.

            The man’s reaction was really quite interesting as you can probably guess. But the more he thought about it, the more he wondered. Later he was talking about how this would explain God being aware of everything that happens, due to the fact that all things were a part of him.

            Have you ever heard of the philosophy of the “Tree of Life”? it teaches that all things are connected. This is in fact one of the reasons that magic actually works. There’s something that connects us to the things and people around us. In magic we learn that there are five elements and that the fifth of these is Spirit, which connects all things together.

            You can believe if you want that there aren’t Gods of Goddesses, but Then that wouldn’t be religion, Would it? I’ll continue to believe that there’s something there that’s greater than us and that we’re all part of…

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            You can believe if you want that there aren’t Gods of Goddesses, but Then that wouldn’t be religion, Would it?

            Wrong.  The older traditions of Buddhism are atheist, as are many of the traditional cultures throughout the world (including in Africa, Australia, and the Americas).  Those traditional cultures honor various Holy Powers, but none of them are gods.

            Please take an introductory course in world religions.

          • Windweaver

            Perhaps I should have used the term “higher power”. Religion indicates worship… Many of the traditions you made reference to would be more classified as Philosophies, than Religions.

          • Mark

            Actually, not. Religion does not require belief in a “higher” power, nor “worship” in a sense of obsequious adoration. The parental model of relationship to the greater cosmos is only the most dominant, not the only approach.

          • Mark

            For considerable detail on this–as well as why it is both desirable and more grounded in likely truth about the nature of the Universe–you could read the essay I linked to below.

          • Mark

            Yes…and the thing about “ancient wisdom” is that it is usually neither.

            Once, we knew little about the Universe, and we made up stories to fill in the gaps of our ignorance. We aren’t so ignorant any longer, and there is really no place for gods in the well-documented cosmology of modern science.

            As referenced above, I believe there is, however, a pertinent and powerful role in our lives for religious practice. I simply choose not to include superstition in mine.

          • Erin

            Hello!  I think this is a confusion between literal/scientific reality and mythic reality.  Science and Myth exist in their own realms and serve very different but equally important functions.  Myth isn’t meant to explain the nuts-and-bolts that Science is meant to; it is meant to explain -why- those things happened, and what makes them relevant to us.  Each culture has their own Mythic orientation to the world.  One tribe may understand perfectly that the starts are only visible at night because the sun shines too brightly during the day for them to be seen, but will still teach a story about them only being seen at night because that is when the spirits of their ancestors come out, to watch over them while they sleep.  They are capable of holding these two realities in each hand, side by side, without contradiction, because they serve two completely different purposes and meet different needs.  One is objective, one is relative.  Mythic/imaginative reality is just another kind of reality, which clearly our brains are wired for.  Relating with it responsibly, rather than making it an excuse for bad behavior, is the more important thing to keep in mind.  Let Myth and Science each serve their purpose, and the struggle between them evaporates.

          • Mark

            Hi, Erin. I both agree and disagree with you. I wouldn’t call this a “confusion”–as the physical Universe has an objective nature no matter what opinions we have about it. 

            Myth, on the other hand, is invented: it’s is the stories we make up to provide meaning, moral instruction, or even entertainment in relation to the phenomena of the Universe. But such stories are not “reality” in the sense that the physical Universe is “real”, no matter how fervently we may believe them.I agree: “let Myth and Science each serve their purpose”…but don’t forget that one is fiction and one is fact (or, more precisely, what is most likely to be fact based on the current state of knowledge). One is a metaphorical game of let’s-pretend that we engage in to enrich our lives and build community; the other leads to knowledge about the actual Universe that is out there beyond our skins, beyond our brains, and would be here whether we were or not.

          • Windweaver

            It seems to me that you make a lot of judgement calls on the origins of Myth… You also state the same source as the origin of the Gods. It seems to me that you put a great deal of effort into not only refusing to believe anything that you don’t read from “scientific sources” but try very hard to make sure that nobody else believes in anything either.

            You accuse others of making assumptions, but you make quite a few yourself. For instance the assumption that just because something can’t be proved by scientific method, that it isn’t real. 

            there is a very long history of people saying thing were absolute “truth” only to have it proven later that were quite wrong.

            Knowledge can only enter an OPEN mind…

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            I agree: “let Myth and Science each serve their purpose”…but don’t
            forget that one is fiction and one is fact (or, more precisely, what is
            most likely to be fact based on the current state of knowledge).

            Wrong.  Both are types of stories we tell. 

            One critical thing that people forget about the natural sciences is that they are *natural* sciences.  That is, the disciplines have made a conscious choice to only study the physical world.  As my lodgemate, who is a professor of physics and astronomy and is a theoretical physicist who studies large-scale general relativity, puts it, “We choose the easy problems.”  By that, he means that the natural sciences, and physics in particular, only studies aspects of reality that behave in predictable ways.  He is also a devout Christian and Hermeticist, because he knows that physics can’t address issues of spirit, consciousness, or ultimate reality.

            You can choose to be an atheist, but that is a *religious* position.  To believe that there is no god(s) is a religious belief.  Given that one of the fundamental principles in science is that one can’t prove a negative, the only position that can be reached by reason is agnosticism.

          • Mark

            I’m sorry, but with all due respect, you really don’t seem to know what you’re talking about.

            I am unaware of any credible evidence that there is anything but a physical world–the idea that there is anything more than this appears to be a popular myth. No, you can’t prove a negative…but you CAN prove–or at least, show as very likely to be true–a positive claim, and no one has ever been able to get anywhere close to doing so in relation to gods, physically effective magic, disembodied intelligences, etc. Accordingly, it is unreasonable to believe in these. No proof of a negative is required; the burden of proof rests with those making extraordinarily unlikely claims.An atheist like me believes what science shows to be most likely to be true, and is open to changing her/his mind if compelling evidence to justify that change comes along. In the case of gods and other superstitious credulities, none ever has been, so I don’t believe in them. Religion, on the other hand, adopts or dismisses evidence in order to reinforce what it has already elected to believe. The two are complete inverses of one another. When the superstitious choose to attempt to put those who apply critical thinking and the scientific method in the same credulous basket as themselves, it shows two things: lack of understanding of what these analytical processes truly mean, and the deep insecurity they carry that drives the need to be “just as scientific” as those who believe in no gods.

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            Most of the old religions did not have creation stories of the whole cosmos.  Most of them had stories that assume that the cosmos existed, and then relate how something specific (for example, humanity) came into being.  Some mythologists prefer to class such stories as “origin stories” in distinction from “creation stories”.

          • Mark

            Windweaver, there are a lot of assumptions you make about the nature of the physical world here that aren’t accurate, and it would be good for your understanding of them to do some exploring.

            For example, the CO2/O2 balance: this isn’t either a happy coincidence or a magical/godly act–it is the dynamic stasis formed when the earliest life (which consumed CO2 and excreted O2) grew in population to the point that the atmosphere became choked with its waste product (O2). At that point, a tremendous collapse in population occurred, and organisms which could metabolize the waste product evolved, because they had to (which is what drives every evolutionary adaptation). This is well-documented in the fossil record–the current rough balance between CO2 and O2 consumers was settled into only after billions of years of fluctuating swings settled down. No gods were required, nor is there any evidence that any were involved.

            One of the lynchpins of deific credulity is an axiom that “if it’s too complicated for me to understand, it must have been done by supernatural forces.” But that’s a magic-wand explanation, when there are other, much more reasonable and evidence-backed explanations which are far more likely to be true.

          • Windweaver

            You can quote the documentation but that does in no way prove that the evolution of the universe and the places and creatures in it wasn’t guided by The Gods and Goddesses that have been worshiped throughout history. For all the science based rhetoric you keep quoting there are many people, myself included, that have a very personal relationship with the Gods and Goddesses and have very good reasons to believe in them.

            You have a right to be an atheist. We have a right to believe. It’s that simple.

            There really is no way whatsoever to prove any of this conclusively so sometimes you just have to accept a different point of view.

          • Mark

            Windweaver, a negative cannot be proved. You are correct in this. Accordingly, it cannot be proven that the Universe was produced by the collision of a rainbow-colored unicorn with a 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air.

            But I kind of doubt it.

            The point is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that…nor is there a reason–to those who are informed about the current state of science–to believe in gods.

            You choose to do so–okay, that’s your right. But please, don’t try to use tools of logic and evidence to support your choice, because they do not support your position. Just say, “I choose to believe this because I like my life better that way,” and be done with it. That, I can respect. 

          • Mark

            (Sorry, should have read “was NOT produced by a collision…”

          • Windweaver

            Actually I’ve seen little evidence to prove that at some time, millions of years ago, some single celled critter decided to evolve and eventually become a creature that walks on two legs, thinks in abstract terms, and is capable of creating great works of art.

            I’ve seen evidence that there has been evolution in the universe and on this earth, but haven’t seen anything that would really tie together an ancient single celled animal, and Modern human beings.

            Much of evolution is still very much theory. Assumptions based on other assumptions based on other assumptions. Show me anything resembling hard evidence that humankind evolved from single celled animals, and I might see where you’re using actual tools of logic rather than simply telling us what you read somewhere…

          • Mark

            Windweaver, you really need to stop. Your described belief system is fine if it’s what you want to do, but there isn’t an evolutionary biologist on the planet would agree with you, and it’s apparent that you don’t really have a groundedness in the science involved here at all, nor familiarity with the available evidence. Which, BTW, is very, very well documented, and has actually been observed both in the laboratory and the field.

            Unlike religion, you don’t just get to make up logic, evidence and science. I have *taught* logic at a university, so you’re probably not in a position to lecture me on the subject.  Believe what you like, but don’t tell me it’s logically credible: what you have posted to this blog has not met that standard.

          • Windweaver

            And you have still shown me no evidence of the degree of evolution of which you’re speaking. By the way, as far as logic goes, Logic can have more twists and turns than the coastal highways in Europe.

            You have no idea what my education level is either, or what my specialties of study have been…

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            Windweaver,

            Take a course or three in evolutionary biology.  All the evidence is there.  You just have to take the time to learn it.  (If evolution wasn’t an accurate description of what happened, the discipline of molecular and cellular biology couldn’t exist.)

            By the way, the term “theory” in science does NOT mean “unproven speculation”.  It means something along the lines of “a model accurately and predictively describing complex processes in the natural world”.  Gravitation is also described by theory, and you’ll still fall down.  (The “law of gravity” is simply one equation describing certain predictable behaviors that the larger theory of gravitation is required to account for.)

            Any time someone says “X is just a theory” about anything scientific, that individual has just demonstrated that s/he doesn’t understand how science works.

          • Mark

            Evolution from single-celled to multicellular organisms has now been replicated in a laboratory.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028184.300-lab-yeast-make-evolutionary-leap-to-multicellularity.html

          • Windweaver

            I read the article, and took note of the scientist that stated that this really wasn’t conclusive due to the fact that yeast, far in the past had a multicellular structural tendency anyways, and that the scientist that created the experiment probably chose the yeast for that reason. he indicated that genetic memory might have had much to do with it as well as the confined nature of the yeast.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ThormodMorrisson Páll Thormod Morrisson

      Re my earlier post: The problem with general neo paganism is the over emphasis on magical practices. In the old days people could be pagan without bothering their heads about such stuff. That was largely left to the druids for example. The general populace attended festivals and major ceremonies and then went home to their farms. Now everybody wants to be a high priest or priestess. My own problem with the term pagan is that it was coined by the Romans – the enemies of the Celtic and Germanic peoples. It was used to describe the so called barbarian tribes and was essentially derogatory. Ancient Celtic and Germanic tribes did not call themselves pagan. In that age it would be generally assumed that everyone was. They would instead refer to themselves by their tribal names – Caledonii, Attacotti, Chatti, Atrebates. People who take pride in the words pagan and heathen are in essence accepting terms given to their ancestors by an age old enemy. Its aim was to exclude these people from Imperial society, and the effect of these terms today continues to act exclusively. There are those who want to be considered different and apart from the wider society and so embrace these terms. And large sectors of this wider society (through being suspicion of such terms) actively exclude them in turn. Such spiritual paths as Hinduism and Taoism are on the whole accepted as such, even if people don’t investigate them further. But if the word pagan is used, there are many with limited knowledge who feel threatened by it. The old beliefs and practices could go a long way to getting a more sympathetic and friendly reception if more appropriate terms were adopted.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

      So true! Pall! Touche!

      • http://www.facebook.com/ThormodMorrisson Páll Thormod Morrisson

        Hello Jacquie. You made some fine points. I used to use both terms pagan and heathen, but as a friend pointed out, pagan (from Latin pagani) means country dweller in the sense of clodhopper or hillbilly (the Romans were not out to be flattering). To me it’s not an acceptable term to describe my spiritual path. I’m more inclined to simply use the term Celtic, as certainly in the old sense it would cover the Celtic religion as well as all cultural elements such as music and story. As my way has also been influenced by Japanese Zen, Budo and Chinese Tao, I feel I have a foot in both camps of east and west and have been happy to find many surprising parallels between the two.    

        • ra

          gmta :o)

        • Erin

          Hello!  What I took from Páll’s post is that our pre-xtian ancestors referred to themselves by their -tribal name- and not by a -religion/spiritual path.-  Your ‘religion,’ which wasn’t separate from who you were, was the one practiced by your people, by default.  And most people weren’t priests or mages, as was also pointed out.  Today’s religious landscape is defined by the Judeo-Christian framework which emphasises -faith- over -practice-, and our culture is defined by the unit of the Individual rather than the Tribe, so already our entire orientation is vastly different from that of our pre-xtian ancestors.  Continuing to use the J-C terminology combined with Mystery traditions and the Western social framework is what makes the Neopagan community what it is, and outlines the contrast between theirs and the Recon communities which tend to choose their own terms to self-identify, do not always pursue priesthood, magic, or the Mysteries in their religious practices, and sometimes/often choose to relate as part of a community of -families-, of either kin or chosen, or a blend.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with this distinction so long as parties of each community are happy with who they are and what they are doing and still extending kindness to each other upon interaction.  There need not be any animosity attached to observing differences.

    • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com Vermillion

      But then the question becomes what is an appropriate term? Should we use the PagaAND that was suggested a couple of weeks back?  What do magic(k?) workers call themselves, if not Witch? What about folks who work & believe in the same sorts of things that Wicca does but don’t practice all of it?

      I’m not trying to be a smart ass, I’m generally curious. I think with every answer we just get more questions and terms.

    • ra

      Well put, Pall. Thank you.

      Labels and language are wonderful tools, but they also cause certain difficulties. Pagan comes from the Latin word pagani (sorry if the spelling is not quite right), which the Romans used to denote someone living in the country, a rural dweller. The term became a derogatory one used to express disdain at those who were not up with the latest ideas or information, the current trends, etc. Much as the label “redneck” or “hillbilly” is used derogatorily, a pagan was looked down upon. When christianity came to the Roman empire, officially, as the state religion, those people who still honored the old ways and the old Gods were looked down upon and called pagans. Same for the word “heathen”, as far as I know, was used as a derogatory term for those who still honored the old ways and the old Gods. 

      That’s my understanding of how the words evolved. That said, however, I am okay with being called a Pagan or a Heathen. It doesn’t bother me, but I suppose, to be more accurate, polytheist is a good word, too. A broader word, perhaps. 

      What an excellent site. :o)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ThormodMorrisson Páll Thormod Morrisson

      Re my earlier post: The problem with general neo paganism is the over emphasis on magical practices. In the old days people could be pagan without bothering their heads about such stuff. That was largely left to the druids for example. The general populace attended festivals and major ceremonies and then went home to their farms. Now everybody wants to be a high priest or priestess. My own problem with the term pagan is that it was coined by the Romans – the enemies of the Celtic and Germanic peoples. It was used to describe the so called barbarian tribes and was essentially derogatory. Ancient Celtic and Germanic tribes did not call themselves pagan. In that age it would be generally assumed that everyone was. They would instead refer to themselves by their tribal names – Caledonii, Attacotti, Chatti, Atrebates. People who take pride in the words pagan and heathen are in essence accepting terms given to their ancestors by an age old enemy. Its aim was to exclude these people from Imperial society, and the effect of these terms today continues to act exclusively. There are those who want to be considered different and apart from the wider society and so embrace these terms. And large sectors of this wider society (through being suspicion of such terms) actively exclude them in turn. Such spiritual paths as Hinduism and Taoism are on the whole accepted as such, even if people don’t investigate them further. But if the word pagan is used, there are many with limited knowledge who feel threatened by it. The old beliefs and practices could go a long way to getting a more sympathetic and friendly reception if more appropriate terms were adopted.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

      So true! Pall! Touche!

      • http://www.facebook.com/ThormodMorrisson Páll Thormod Morrisson

        Hello Jacquie. You made some fine points. I used to use both terms pagan and heathen, but as a friend pointed out, pagan (from Latin pagani) means country dweller in the sense of clodhopper or hillbilly (the Romans were not out to be flattering). To me it’s not an acceptable term to describe my spiritual path. I’m more inclined to simply use the term Celtic, as certainly in the old sense it would cover the Celtic religion as well as all cultural elements such as music and story. As my way has also been influenced by Japanese Zen, Budo and Chinese Tao, I feel I have a foot in both camps of east and west and have been happy to find many surprising parallels between the two.    

        • ra

          gmta :o)

        • Erin

          Hello!  What I took from Páll’s post is that our pre-xtian ancestors referred to themselves by their -tribal name- and not by a -religion/spiritual path.-  Your ‘religion,’ which wasn’t separate from who you were, was the one practiced by your people, by default.  And most people weren’t priests or mages, as was also pointed out.  Today’s religious landscape is defined by the Judeo-Christian framework which emphasises -faith- over -practice-, and our culture is defined by the unit of the Individual rather than the Tribe, so already our entire orientation is vastly different from that of our pre-xtian ancestors.  Continuing to use the J-C terminology combined with Mystery traditions and the Western social framework is what makes the Neopagan community what it is, and outlines the contrast between theirs and the Recon communities which tend to choose their own terms to self-identify, do not always pursue priesthood, magic, or the Mysteries in their religious practices, and sometimes/often choose to relate as part of a community of -families-, of either kin or chosen, or a blend.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with this distinction so long as parties of each community are happy with who they are and what they are doing and still extending kindness to each other upon interaction.  There need not be any animosity attached to observing differences.

    • ra

      Well put, Pall. Thank you.

      Labels and language are wonderful tools, but they also cause certain difficulties. Pagan comes from the Latin word pagani (sorry if the spelling is not quite right), which the Romans used to denote someone living in the country, a rural dweller. The term became a derogatory one used to express disdain at those who were not up with the latest ideas or information, the current trends, etc. Much as the label “redneck” or “hillbilly” is used derogatorily, a pagan was looked down upon. When christianity came to the Roman empire, officially, as the state religion, those people who still honored the old ways and the old Gods were looked down upon and called pagans. Same for the word “heathen”, as far as I know, was used as a derogatory term for those who still honored the old ways and the old Gods. 

      That’s my understanding of how the words evolved. That said, however, I am okay with being called a Pagan or a Heathen. It doesn’t bother me, but I suppose, to be more accurate, polytheist is a good word, too. A broader word, perhaps. 

      What an excellent site. :o)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

    I think there’s a couple of currents driving this. One is the age-old pissing contest to establish who has the “real” tradition within paganism. Way back when that meant Wiccan of such and such supposedly ancient lineage. Between Wiccans who took themselves way too seriously and fluff publishing which dumbed down Wicca to not taking anything seriously at all, then it wasn’t cool to be Wiccan anymore. You had to be Trad Craft or Heathen or Recon or Chaos Magick or have initiations and clergy status in all of the above.

     It’s another variation on the old game where everyone defines everyone else as “fluffy bunnies” and their own path, whatever it is at the moment as “authentic.”  I guess the latest iteration says that anyone who invests a bit of scholarship to revive the ancient religions is “real” vs the rest of us “neo-pagans” who are just playing dress-up or whatever. It’s an unwinnable middle-school game and I just have no time for it. I’m a 21st Century man tapping into something ancient and using a mostly 20th Century ritual interface to accomplish that. I’ll leave it to my gods whether my practice is “real enough.” I do what I do for them, myself and my circle and clan, not to win admission to some circle of “cool kids” within the movement.

    At some level pagans (and “polytheists”) are just ornery folk who don’t like anyone else presuming to define them in any way. I get that, but I don’t personally lose a lot of sleep if somebody wants to call me Pagan.

    At some level this also strikes me as a sad gambit to curry favor with the mainstream Judeo-Christian society. People seem to think that if they slap on some other label to distinguish themselves from paganism and all its “flakiness” that Evangelical and mainstream Protestant America is suddenly going to have a new found respect for them.

    • sindarintech

      Kenneth: yes, yes and yes. I really enjoyed reading this post!

    • Erin

      Kenneth, as someone who identifies as a Recon Polytheist much more so than as a Neopagan, I could give a flying funk what the Judeo-Christian community thinks of me and my practice.  Most recons I know feel the same.  I can almost guarantee you that this isn’t any part of the motivation to prefer the term.  It has to do with observed, and felt cultural differences in worldview and general practice between the two communities.  The distinction probably only matters to someone who strongly identifies with one community or the other, but the term ‘pagan’ has come to carry a lot of social baggage that many do not relate with, and so choose to disassociate themselves with not only the community at large but also the term itself, altogether.  Having done so, the need for another term presents itself, and so one has been found.  If the baggage changes, it will probably happen all over again. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

    I think there’s a couple of currents driving this. One is the age-old pissing contest to establish who has the “real” tradition within paganism. Way back when that meant Wiccan of such and such supposedly ancient lineage. Between Wiccans who took themselves way too seriously and fluff publishing which dumbed down Wicca to not taking anything seriously at all, then it wasn’t cool to be Wiccan anymore. You had to be Trad Craft or Heathen or Recon or Chaos Magick or have initiations and clergy status in all of the above.

     It’s another variation on the old game where everyone defines everyone else as “fluffy bunnies” and their own path, whatever it is at the moment as “authentic.”  I guess the latest iteration says that anyone who invests a bit of scholarship to revive the ancient religions is “real” vs the rest of us “neo-pagans” who are just playing dress-up or whatever. It’s an unwinnable middle-school game and I just have no time for it. I’m a 21st Century man tapping into something ancient and using a mostly 20th Century ritual interface to accomplish that. I’ll leave it to my gods whether my practice is “real enough.” I do what I do for them, myself and my circle and clan, not to win admission to some circle of “cool kids” within the movement.

    At some level pagans (and “polytheists”) are just ornery folk who don’t like anyone else presuming to define them in any way. I get that, but I don’t personally lose a lot of sleep if somebody wants to call me Pagan.

    At some level this also strikes me as a sad gambit to curry favor with the mainstream Judeo-Christian society. People seem to think that if they slap on some other label to distinguish themselves from paganism and all its “flakiness” that Evangelical and mainstream Protestant America is suddenly going to have a new found respect for them.

    • Anonymous

      Kenneth: yes, yes and yes. I really enjoyed reading this post!

    • Erin

      Kenneth, as someone who identifies as a Recon Polytheist much more so than as a Neopagan, I could give a flying funk what the Judeo-Christian community thinks of me and my practice.  Most recons I know feel the same.  I can almost guarantee you that this isn’t any part of the motivation to prefer the term.  It has to do with observed, and felt cultural differences in worldview and general practice between the two communities.  The distinction probably only matters to someone who strongly identifies with one community or the other, but the term ‘pagan’ has come to carry a lot of social baggage that many do not relate with, and so choose to disassociate themselves with not only the community at large but also the term itself, altogether.  Having done so, the need for another term presents itself, and so one has been found.  If the baggage changes, it will probably happen all over again. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jannekebrouwers Janneke Brouwers

    It is important to note as well, that Drew explains why he himself doesn’t use this term any more, mostly due to local circumstances. He didn’t start out as a plea for all pagan groups to abandon the term.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jannekebrouwers Janneke Brouwers

    It is important to note as well, that Drew explains why he himself doesn’t use this term any more, mostly due to local circumstances. He didn’t start out as a plea for all pagan groups to abandon the term.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tpoaic Cora Post

     I am so very happy to read articles from fellow Polytheists.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tpoaic Cora Post

     I am so very happy to read articles from fellow Polytheists.

  • Henry

    I’m happy to identify with the term witch, and with all the baggage and connotation it carries. I personally no longer identify with ‘Modern Paganism’, and really don’t care what term folks wish to use to identify that movement.

  • Henry

    I’m happy to identify with the term witch, and with all the baggage and connotation it carries. I personally no longer identify with ‘Modern Paganism’, and really don’t care what term folks wish to use to identify that movement.

  • Windweaver

    Personally I find that the term Pagan is just something many of us use as an umbrella term to differentiate us from the Judeo-Christian religions. It’s a shortcut term that says “I don’t believe the same things you do”. I have no problem being called a Pagan, since that’s really the only term that really fits. I was trained in Wicca through the second degree, walked away. Was involved in ADF for a while, to based on study for me. I go by what my heart tells the Gods want, and isn’t the heart really what religion is all about anyway?

    Basically there are some of us that can only be correctly described as Pagan…

  • Windweaver

    Personally I find that the term Pagan is just something many of us use as an umbrella term to differentiate us from the Judeo-Christian religions. It’s a shortcut term that says “I don’t believe the same things you do”. I have no problem being called a Pagan, since that’s really the only term that really fits. I was trained in Wicca through the second degree, walked away. Was involved in ADF for a while, to based on study for me. I go by what my heart tells the Gods want, and isn’t the heart really what religion is all about anyway?

    Basically there are some of us that can only be correctly described as Pagan…

  • Henry

    Sannion pretty much nailed it for me, “critical and contemptuous” is an apt description of my view.
    especially the marketing approach, as referenced in both Drews expostmodernism essay, and patheos’ links for being an ‘expert’ and advertising. “religion’ being treated much like a commodity.
    “go ahead, drink the kool aide” lol

  • Henry

    Sannion pretty much nailed it for me, “critical and contemptuous” is an apt description of my view.
    especially the marketing approach, as referenced in both Drews expostmodernism essay, and patheos’ links for being an ‘expert’ and advertising. “religion’ being treated much like a commodity.
    “go ahead, drink the kool aide” lol

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    The following was my comment on Helio’s post:

    I have two major definitional problems with replacing the term “pagan” with polytheist:

    1. 
    It excludes all those pagans who aren’t polytheists: the animists, the
    henotheists, the monists, those who focus on the orisa, or the
    ancestors, or nature spirits, or the elements, or…

    2.  One of
    the most significant changes I’ve noticed in modern paganism over the
    last few decades is the gradual inclusion of more retro-pagan
    approaches.  While all of the Indo-European pagan cultures practiced 
    reverence to multiple gods and are thus polytheistic, they also all
    practiced reverence to nature spirits and ancestors.  I see it as a real
    sign of maturation in modern paganism that the nature spirits and
    ancestors are being honored by more and more modern pagans.  The use of
    the term polytheist encourages an unbalanced emphasis on just gods.

    • Erin

      Ian, I disagree.  First, no one suggested -replacing- one term with another, but rather described -identifying- with one term more than another.  Second, I have never met a self-identified polytheist who discounted nature spirits and ancestors, so I don’t see the term encouraging such at all.  Third, the orisa are part of the Voudun tradition, which is neither Neopagan nor Reconstructionist Polytheist, so it is irrelevant to the topic at hand by being its own distinct cultural tradition.  Dissenters keep treating this terminological distinction as one of merely semantics, but it is not; it is one of inherently different cultural worldview and religious practice.  Not to say better, but certainly not the same.

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    The following was my comment on Helio’s post:

    I have two major definitional problems with replacing the term “pagan” with polytheist:

    1. 
    It excludes all those pagans who aren’t polytheists: the animists, the
    henotheists, the monists, those who focus on the orisa, or the
    ancestors, or nature spirits, or the elements, or…

    2.  One of
    the most significant changes I’ve noticed in modern paganism over the
    last few decades is the gradual inclusion of more retro-pagan
    approaches.  While all of the Indo-European pagan cultures practiced 
    reverence to multiple gods and are thus polytheistic, they also all
    practiced reverence to nature spirits and ancestors.  I see it as a real
    sign of maturation in modern paganism that the nature spirits and
    ancestors are being honored by more and more modern pagans.  The use of
    the term polytheist encourages an unbalanced emphasis on just gods.

    • Erin

      Ian, I disagree.  First, no one suggested -replacing- one term with another, but rather described -identifying- with one term more than another.  Second, I have never met a self-identified polytheist who discounted nature spirits and ancestors, so I don’t see the term encouraging such at all.  Third, the orisa are part of the Voudun tradition, which is neither Neopagan nor Reconstructionist Polytheist, so it is irrelevant to the topic at hand by being its own distinct cultural tradition.  Dissenters keep treating this terminological distinction as one of merely semantics, but it is not; it is one of inherently different cultural worldview and religious practice.  Not to say better, but certainly not the same.

  • Rua Lupa

    Perhaps paganism is a first stepping stone for people who are trying to find their own way. With its diversity and inclusiveness to people who are stepping away from the ‘major beliefs’, it helps to find a group of people who are accepting of your search and encourage self discovery.

    I personally feel that paganism is Wicca heavy in its theology, and that most pagan related books are too. It does seem to have people leave the label behind when they find a path that is not Wicca related.

    I relate to paganism as it has helped me find my own path, but in practice I don’t say pagan when I introduce myself; I state my specific path, because the word pagan has had very Wiccan related assumptions and responses, and I don’t practice anything that is remotely Wiccan. I don’t cast circles and I am more pantheist and animistic in my approach. I have nothing against the word Pagan and Pagans alike, grand people, we get along great. I just find it causes more of a wall when it comes to public interactions. Paganism helped me through my exploring years, and now thanks to Paganism, I have found my footing and gladly visit and contribute to the movement, because I’ve experienced the benefits of Paganism myself and know that it will help others too.

    • Kristin

      First, sup Lupa. Glad to see someone I really respect in the Animist community weighing in.

      Secondly, this is also my feeling on it. I feel that Paganism has Wiccan connotations to many, to the point I’ve been asked if I was Wiccan for wearing a pentacle. Granted you could claim this is partly because of a lack of education, but still it seems to have that association. And I don’t go around claiming ‘Shaman’ either, though it may be more accurate, (I’m sure you know about that issue, Lupa, as you’ve done really good posts on it in the past) because of what it may imply about me and an ignorance it could convey to the general populace. In reality I’m pretty well informed on the historical roots and practices of Shamanism, but I don’t claim to be an expert or initiated or part of any Native group, so there you are.

      Basically, I feel like Pagan is my general term until I can find a better one. When that fails, I use ‘Animist’.

      • Rua Lupa

        To be quite honest, I am rather speechless on being look on so highly. I am glad to have made such an impression and hope to uphold that. I hadn’t recalled dialogue with you personally Kristin and had thought perhaps you were involved in Ehoah but couldn’t find your name among the Like list on the Facebook page. So I could only assume that I’ve unexpectedly developed a bit of a mini-rep here on the comment boards. If so, Hey look at that. People aren’t kidding when they say whatever you put out there is seen by everyone. I think I may have to now consciously refrain from being self-conscious in what I write.

        “(I’m sure you know about that issue, Lupa, as you’ve done really good posts on it in the past)”

        Upon reading the above, my first thought was, “What?”
        I am still wracking my brain on Animist related posts I’ve made in the past. Or was it something more subtle? Could you point out where that would be or possibly paraphrase? I’d hate to suddenly contradict myself in future posts. 

        I personally am still developing my path one step at a time, I only now know what general direction I am going in. Still learning about my Celtic background, and have recently learned a great deal about the Native side of my bloodline. I hope that your walk in solidifying your path is a smooth one and that the information and experiences you need find you in this complex interconnected web of life.

        Many Blessings

      • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

        I’ve been asked if I was Wiccan for wearing a pentacle.

        Now I have to ask:  Why *are* you wearing a pentacle if you aren’t Wiccan (or some other form of Modern Pagan Witchcraft)?

        The pentacle entered the Craft as a symbol of *magic*, via Ceremonialism.  It’s certainly not traditionally a symbol of paganism.  (Which is not to say that it wasn’t used as a symbol in the Hellenistic world, but that it wasn’t a symbol of pagan religion.)

        • Rua Lupa

          In my personal research I have come across the pentacle being historically linked to the ancient druids via the ogham and the associated sacred trees. One of these trees includes the mountain ash/rowan tree. The berries of this tree being cut in half would reveal a pentacle shape, which is presumed the source of the inspiration of the symbol. Therefore, not necessarily solely associated with witchcraft.

  • Rua Lupa

    Perhaps paganism is a first stepping stone for people who are trying to find their own way. With its diversity and inclusiveness to people who are stepping away from the ‘major beliefs’, it helps to find a group of people who are accepting of your search and encourage self discovery.

    I personally feel that paganism is Wicca heavy in its theology, and that most pagan related books are too. It does seem to have people leave the label behind when they find a path that is not Wicca related.

    I relate to paganism as it has helped me find my own path, but in practice I don’t say pagan when I introduce myself; I state my specific path, because the word pagan has had very Wiccan related assumptions and responses, and I don’t practice anything that is remotely Wiccan. I don’t cast circles and I am more pantheist and animistic in my approach. I have nothing against the word Pagan and Pagans alike, grand people, we get along great. I just find it causes more of a wall when it comes to public interactions. Paganism helped me through my exploring years, and now thanks to Paganism, I have found my footing and gladly visit and contribute to the movement, because I’ve experienced the benefits of Paganism myself and know that it will help others too.

    • Kristin

      First, sup Lupa. Glad to see someone I really respect in the Animist community weighing in.

      Secondly, this is also my feeling on it. I feel that Paganism has Wiccan connotations to many, to the point I’ve been asked if I was Wiccan for wearing a pentacle. Granted you could claim this is partly because of a lack of education, but still it seems to have that association. And I don’t go around claiming ‘Shaman’ either, though it may be more accurate, (I’m sure you know about that issue, Lupa, as you’ve done really good posts on it in the past) because of what it may imply about me and an ignorance it could convey to the general populace. In reality I’m pretty well informed on the historical roots and practices of Shamanism, but I don’t claim to be an expert or initiated or part of any Native group, so there you are.

      Basically, I feel like Pagan is my general term until I can find a better one. When that fails, I use ‘Animist’.

      • Rua Lupa

        To be quite honest, I am rather speechless on being look on so highly. I am glad to have made such an impression and hope to uphold that. I hadn’t recalled dialogue with you personally Kristin and had thought perhaps you were involved in Ehoah but couldn’t find your name among the Like list on the Facebook page. So I could only assume that I’ve unexpectedly developed a bit of a mini-rep here on the comment boards. If so, Hey look at that. People aren’t kidding when they say whatever you put out there is seen by everyone. I think I may have to now consciously refrain from being self-conscious in what I write.

        “(I’m sure you know about that issue, Lupa, as you’ve done really good posts on it in the past)”

        Upon reading the above, my first thought was, “What?”
        I am still wracking my brain on Animist related posts I’ve made in the past. Or was it something more subtle? Could you point out where that would be or possibly paraphrase? I’d hate to suddenly contradict myself in future posts. 

        I personally am still developing my path one step at a time, I only now know what general direction I am going in. Still learning about my Celtic background, and have recently learned a great deal about the Native side of my bloodline. I hope that your walk in solidifying your path is a smooth one and that the information and experiences you need find you in this complex interconnected web of life.

        Many Blessings

      • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

        I’ve been asked if I was Wiccan for wearing a pentacle.

        Now I have to ask:  Why *are* you wearing a pentacle if you aren’t Wiccan (or some other form of Modern Pagan Witchcraft)?

        The pentacle entered the Craft as a symbol of *magic*, via Ceremonialism.  It’s certainly not traditionally a symbol of paganism.  (Which is not to say that it wasn’t used as a symbol in the Hellenistic world, but that it wasn’t a symbol of pagan religion.)

        • Rua Lupa

          In my personal research I have come across the pentacle being historically linked to the ancient druids via the ogham and the associated sacred trees. One of these trees includes the mountain ash/rowan tree. The berries of this tree being cut in half would reveal a pentacle shape, which is presumed the source of the inspiration of the symbol. Therefore, not necessarily solely associated with witchcraft.

  • Mark

    BTW, for those who were interested in more details on the thinking that informs my comments in this comment thread, my essay on “Godless Heathenism” can be read at:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/56488533/Godless-Heathen 

  • Mark

    BTW, for those who were interested in more details on the thinking that informs my comments in this comment thread, my essay on “Godless Heathenism” can be read at:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/56488533/Godless-Heathen 

  • lynn

    I recently weighed in on this on my own blog. I don’t mind the word pagan but I refuse to capitalize it:

    http://www.blackpagan.com/

    • lynn

      Sorry, that should have been: Sorry, that should have been: http://www.blackpagan.com/2011/05/pagan-or-pagan.html

    • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

      I agree wholeheartedly with the non-capitalization.  Though, being as very white as I am, my reasons are different.  (Though my very pale-skinned grandfather was officially not White when he we young, as he was born of Irish descent in Chicago.  At some point during his life, he magically became White.)

      I don’t capitalize pagan because it is an umbrella term, not the name of a specific religion/tradition.

  • lynn

    I recently weighed in on this on my own blog. I don’t mind the word pagan but I refuse to capitalize it:

    http://www.blackpagan.com/

    • lynn

      Sorry, that should have been: Sorry, that should have been: http://www.blackpagan.com/2011/05/pagan-or-pagan.html

    • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

      I agree wholeheartedly with the non-capitalization.  Though, being as very white as I am, my reasons are different.  (Though my very pale-skinned grandfather was officially not White when he we young, as he was born of Irish descent in Chicago.  At some point during his life, he magically became White.)

      I don’t capitalize pagan because it is an umbrella term, not the name of a specific religion/tradition.

  • Henry

    “All of which has been well-documented scientifically, up to and including identification of that part of the brain which, when stimulated, provokes a profound religious experience of being connected to a great deific presence.”
    Ah it would seem we’re wired to have such an experience. Wonder why that is? pretty interesting eh?

    • Mark

      It IS interesting–it suggests that the illusion of such experiences contributes to evolutionary competitiveness, as we now have solid evidence that they are sui generis rather than caused by some phenomenon outside of ourselves. 

      Offhand, the benefits I can identify are that they can provide a hedge against the despair and lack of motivation to do anything that can come with recognizing our insignificance and inevitable mortality, as well as an organizing principle for community formation which enhances reproductive survival prospects. Evolution is practical–it doesn’t care if we’re hallucinating as long as we get our genes to the next generation.

      • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

        Evolution is practical

        Any teleological model of evolution is false.  Evolution does not evolve toward things, only away from things.  This is because mutation is random, and neutral traits are not selected against.  That means that being wired for spiritual experiences only needs to not be disadvantageous to remain in the gene pool.  And if it happens to be co-located with advantageous genes, it will distribute even faster than by random distribution.

        Personally, I think that being wired for spiritual experiences is advantageous, but one can’t conclude that solely because we are so wired.  It could theoretically be a neutral trait that has become common.  (Which could explain why in every population some individuals are more spiritually inclined than in others.)

        • Mark

          I have not suggested “intent” on the part of evolution–this would involve some kind of intelligence on the part of the biosphere, which I see no credible evidence to support. 

          Mutation is random, but **selection** is not–natural selection provides competitive advantage to advantageous mutations, and therefore reinforces them as generations pass.  Traits are therefore both evolved towards and away from. 

          While it is possible that being wired to have a capacity for the perception of spiritual experiences is a complete by-product of other advantages adaptations, it is also possible that it is not, and there are good arguments for why it is, indeed, competitively advantageous.

  • Henry

    “All of which has been well-documented scientifically, up to and including identification of that part of the brain which, when stimulated, provokes a profound religious experience of being connected to a great deific presence.”
    Ah it would seem we’re wired to have such an experience. Wonder why that is? pretty interesting eh?

    • Mark

      It IS interesting–it suggests that the illusion of such experiences contributes to evolutionary competitiveness, as we now have solid evidence that they are sui generis rather than caused by some phenomenon outside of ourselves. 

      Offhand, the benefits I can identify are that they can provide a hedge against the despair and lack of motivation to do anything that can come with recognizing our insignificance and inevitable mortality, as well as an organizing principle for community formation which enhances reproductive survival prospects. Evolution is practical–it doesn’t care if we’re hallucinating as long as we get our genes to the next generation.

      • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

        Evolution is practical

        Any teleological model of evolution is false.  Evolution does not evolve toward things, only away from things.  This is because mutation is random, and neutral traits are not selected against.  That means that being wired for spiritual experiences only needs to not be disadvantageous to remain in the gene pool.  And if it happens to be co-located with advantageous genes, it will distribute even faster than by random distribution.

        Personally, I think that being wired for spiritual experiences is advantageous, but one can’t conclude that solely because we are so wired.  It could theoretically be a neutral trait that has become common.  (Which could explain why in every population some individuals are more spiritually inclined than in others.)

        • Mark

          I have not suggested “intent” on the part of evolution–this would involve some kind of intelligence on the part of the biosphere, which I see no credible evidence to support. 

          Mutation is random, but **selection** is not–natural selection provides competitive advantage to advantageous mutations, and therefore reinforces them as generations pass.  Traits are therefore both evolved towards and away from. 

          While it is possible that being wired to have a capacity for the perception of spiritual experiences is a complete by-product of other advantages adaptations, it is also possible that it is not, and there are good arguments for why it is, indeed, competitively advantageous.

  • http://esotericresearch.wordpress.com Reverend Scuirus

          I am a Neo-Confucian, a member of an Eastern religion, who blends elements of Wicca, other Asian philosophies (chakras, the Indian system, etc) and who also practices within the Western Hermetic Tradition. And I am proud to be a Pagan. I understand that most other Eastern religionists do not identify with the Neopagan movement, but I see a *lot* of similarities between our paths.

         Just like the Western Hermetic / magical tradition draws upon the classical Pagan tradition, the Eastern traditions draw upon the folk Pagan traditions of China, India, and many other countries in Asia. Reconstructionist Pagan traditions recreate a folk, historical Pagan tradition.

         Paganism’s strength is its inclusiveness. I would say that to brand yourself as ‘not-Pagan’ (unless you’re a Judeo-Christian-Islamic magician) is perhaps a bit reactionary.

         My partner is a Thelemite and he feels a bit of unease with the ‘Pagan’ label because his community does not usually identify with the ‘Pagan’ label. I am uncomfortable with this because we are such a small community already, even though everyone has the right to self-identify. I have a problem with people wanting to be ‘not-Pagan’ because they see others as ‘fluffy’ – not with any other reason.

    Blessings,
    Rev. Scuirus

  • http://esotericresearch.wordpress.com Reverend Scuirus

          I am a Neo-Confucian, a member of an Eastern religion, who blends elements of Wicca, other Asian philosophies (chakras, the Indian system, etc) and who also practices within the Western Hermetic Tradition. And I am proud to be a Pagan. I understand that most other Eastern religionists do not identify with the Neopagan movement, but I see a *lot* of similarities between our paths.

         Just like the Western Hermetic / magical tradition draws upon the classical Pagan tradition, the Eastern traditions draw upon the folk Pagan traditions of China, India, and many other countries in Asia. Reconstructionist Pagan traditions recreate a folk, historical Pagan tradition.

         Paganism’s strength is its inclusiveness. I would say that to brand yourself as ‘not-Pagan’ (unless you’re a Judeo-Christian-Islamic magician) is perhaps a bit reactionary.

         My partner is a Thelemite and he feels a bit of unease with the ‘Pagan’ label because his community does not usually identify with the ‘Pagan’ label. I am uncomfortable with this because we are such a small community already, even though everyone has the right to self-identify. I have a problem with people wanting to be ‘not-Pagan’ because they see others as ‘fluffy’ – not with any other reason.

    Blessings,
    Rev. Scuirus


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