I’ve been sneaking reading into my day, much like the old days under blankets with a flashlight. I got a copy of All Things Shining to review, which rumor has it basically recommends polytheism as the cure for modern nihilism.
In the second chapter I found an idea that made me pause, and I invite you to sit with it for a moment, to consider it:
“It is as if the true burden of this responsibility—the responsibility to escape from the meaninglessness and drudgery of a godless world by constructing a happier meaning for it out of nothing, literally ex nihilo as God himself once had done—was too much for any human spirit to achieve. It is a possibility that requires us to become gods ourselves.”
Ignore the strange mixture of theisms for a moment and consider the vastness of the universe. Consider the vast diversity of organic life on this planet. Consider the infinite chemical reactions, the transfers of matter into energy and back. Consider the breadth and depth of the human race. Now consider you have to create a meaning for all of this from scratch.
How daunting is that? Modern Paganism is a strange animal. We are a mixture of people who look to the ancients for meaning, people who create their own meaning and any possible combination of the two views. Some Pagans have a Nietzschean view of the Will, of being a “free spirit,” as the ultimate. Some believe the ultimate meaning lies outside ourselves, that we must accept it and keep rowing.
Before receiving the book I ran across this quote:
“Seek not, my soul, the life of the immortals; but enjoy to the full the resources that are within thy reach.” — Pindar
Hubris is something ancient Paganism was concerned with. Our submission to the Gods is not like Christian submissiveness, but in the same way I am submissive to a mountain. If the mountain chooses to fall on me there is nothing I can do, I cannot convince the mountain to move by any argument, yet I can destroy the mountain if I have the resources and time. Attempts have been made to destroy the Gods in the past, but like the mountain, their essential parts remain and may be reconstructed over time. Usually though, we ignore the mountain we do not like, and it remains.
The kind of hubris that tries to destroy a mountain is the same kind that seeks to destroy a God. It’s a difficult and unrewarding task, and merely leaves you empty. The lack of a mountain is no improvement, and so it goes with Gods. More often hubris seeks to ignore the Gods. A God may accept your anger at them, that you are allied against them, and may even entertain your arguing with them, but what God will accept being ignored? What human accepts a fly ignoring their efforts to keep it out of their soup?
It seems to me that trying to create meaning ex nihilo, out of nothing, is to ignore the Gods and our ancestors, thousands of years of wisdom regarding the human experience. To codify that wisdom and reduce it to a single book is the error of monotheism, which gave rise to nihilism, existentialism and atheism. The structure of our worldview, of the meaning of our lives is not only living in the words of the ancients, but a continual revelation into present times. Like little buckets from a deep well, polytheism still informs our world view today. Wicca, Thelema and Discordianism are three very different forms of Modern Paganism which contain modern revelations. The Charge of the Goddess is not the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments. It’s not a brick in the wall to contain us, but a drop in a river that sustains us.
I’ve always believed that Paganism was not about transcendence, but about embracing humanity as it actually exists, about striving to be more human, not more godlike. I don’t believe we create our own meaning and morality. It’s why I’m Wiccan, why I came back to Wicca after being a “non-denominational” Pagan for years. The Gods, old and new, are tasked with creating a meaning for the Universe. I think it’s my job to be open to those small continual revelations and be content to be as human as I can be.