Petty, Carnal, Pagan Desires

Awhile back I talked about the Pagan concept of salvation being temporal rather than eternal. I’ve been thinking about what that means.

If we start with the premise that Paganism begins with the idea that there is nothing wrong with you, that you are not lost, disconnected, in eternal danger, in need of transcendence or incomplete, then eternal salvation doesn’t factor in. Most religions, and possibly a few Pagan religions, base their entire teachings on some concept of eternal salvation. This might be the cause of the greatest disconnect in interfaith work with Pagans. While religions who have a concept of eternal salvation have a great deal in common, religions that only deal with temporal salvation are working within a completely different mindset and theological framework from Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. This isn’t helped by the fact that eternal salvation in religious circles is valued as higher than temporal salvation. The spiritual is considered higher or better than the material.

But for most Pagans, the material is holy. Our bodies are not dirty, but sacred. The earth is not a place of trial and tribulation, but our beautiful home and mother to our species. There is nothing “base” about our material needs and desires.

Flicker CC Scarlet O.

I know there is a concern about not treating the Gods as if they are vending machines, and we all know the groan-worthy Pagan tomes on love and money spells. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows I’m dead set on reciprocity in our relationships with the Gods. But the truth is humans are animals. We have bodies and minds. Those bodies and minds have needs. We need food, shelter, warmth, and water. We need love, friendship, stories, sex and laughter. Sex is no less a real and holy need than meditation. Being able to put food on the table is not less spiritually important than being able to commune with the Gods.

I think it was in The Spiral Dance where Starhawk said she went to a Pagan event where people were asking for blessings. She asked for something for her friend, and a woman insisted she ask for something for herself too. That’s an important thing to remember, that our physical and temporal needs are holy, important and of interest to the Gods. There are reasons the Gods are known for providing temporal assistance to humankind. Aphrodite isn’t the Goddess of love because she’s completely uninterested in our love lives. Asclepius isn’t a God of healing because he doesn’t care about our health. Athena isn’t a Goddess of wisdom because she could care less whether we can afford an education.

I often find small “catch-phrases” in music that have deep meaning for me. One of the phrases I have been contemplating is from Bone Poets Orchestra’s song Family:

Takes a lotta courage to stand up and get what you need.

I think that’s a powerful phrase. It takes a lot of courage to admit you need help with something. To admit you need something “base” and material, even carnal. It can be hard to remember these things are holy when the overculture says they are not.

This morning I’m thinking about the things I need. The things that are material, that are the desires of my body, and that are the basic needs of my human nature. I’m thinking about the things I don’t like to admit I need because they seem “base” or less than spiritual. But I’m also thinking that the virtues of honesty, honor and courage don’t just apply to my spiritual life or my highest aims. They apply to my sex life, my financial well-being and my need for physical security.

So maybe when confronted with needs or desires we think are unworthy of us, we should examine them closely. Maybe we should remember the material is as sacred as the spiritual, and that it “takes a lotta courage to stand up and get what you need.”

Temporal salvation isn’t a lesser form of salvation. Rather it’s practical, immediate and useful. Rather than some pie-in-the-sky afterlife, temporal salvation is what keeps the human species alive. It’s what keeps us evolving, creating and reaching for the stars.

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About Star Foster

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

  • Claudine

    Thank you.  What a gloriously honest and practical look at life and what matters.

  • Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    Having a bit of trouble rectifying this very pragmatic mindset with the anti-commercial outlook of many Pagans, and the notion that earning a good income is somehow undesirable, the identification with the underclasses, and the loathing toward those who are successful.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Very much agreed, Star…

    These have been a very difficult set of lessons for me to learn, personally, that it is all right to ask for things that I need (especially “things I need” quite literally!), which of course get classified in Pagan/magic-working contexts as “low magic.”  Uh…okay.

    I think this is one of the difficult things about “temporal salvation” as well that might be missed in understanding that type of this-worldly concept:  we all don’t have it automatically, and in fact all of us have a need to connect (whether it is re-connecting or doing it for the first time) to the world and the things and people in it, which is made difficult by the transcendental aims of other religions infiltrating every aspect of life and giving people a disconnected approach to almost everything.

    And, especially when some of the needs we have come with price tags attached–including love (i.e. if you don’t have a job or a car or your own place to live, you’re not a viable candidate for a serious relationship, etc.)–and the fact that because of those limitations, not everyone who wants to be “temporally saved” in these regards can be, that creates all sorts of further difficulties.

    Perhaps the vocabulary of “salvation” should be shifted away from that concept and its baggage back to its Latin roots, i.e. salus, “health/well-being,” in terms of a temporal concept of salvation–we don’t really need to be “saved from” anything, but we do need to try and be as whole and healthy in our well-being as possible.

  • Corc Hamr

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the disconnect. Several forms of Paganism are concerned with balance and respect, especially concerning our home and environs. In our own grove, we have this idea in our heads of “don’t s**t where you eat.” The idea is not that commercialism is bad, but the level to which it has grown is far out of balance with everything else. To maintain this level of commercialism, we no longer respect other living things or our environment. We become so consumed with consumerism that we lose sight of the rest of the story, the rest of the sacred. Just my own observations.

    Ironically, I know a number of Pagans who are obsessed with their “shinies”, their crystals and drums and tarot cards, which sometimes becomes rather hard to reconcile with an anti-commercial outlook. There is also something to be said for the influence of secular society’s training on our practices, regardless of opinion. 


  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I don’t think all of those things necessarily apply–it’s not that some people’s material success is something to be loathed and a matter that modern Pagans generally loathe, it’s that the comportment and behavior of some people who are materially successful towards others is loathsome and unjust, for example.  The social inequality and the selfishness that often comes with financial success is something to be wary of, not the financial success itself.

  • Corc Hamr

    I agree with most of the points in this post. However, something that bothers me a little:

    “The earth is not a place of trial and tribulation, but our beautiful home and mother to our species. ”

    Why can’t it be both? My grove, for example, sees this trial and tribulation as a good thing, part of the bargain. Otherwise, life would be a little boring. There’s no paradox in the world being both a wonderful and terrible place. 


  • kenneth

    I don’t think it’s at all accurate to say that pagans in general, or even contemporary pagan culture is “anti-commercial” in the sense that you seem to imply a kind of blanket anti-capitalism. 

    It probably is accurate to say that most pagans have never gone in for the mindless consumerism in which people define their entire lives and self-worth by the size of their home and the car they drive. Nor is there a loathing for those who are successful. As a people who understand the value of balance and sustainability, I think there is a level of disgust with the kind of capitalism that has evolved in the last quarter century. That, increasingly, is a system which rewards people not for creating anything of value or hard work, but which has devolved into a kind of zero-sum extractive industry not unlike that of strip mining. 

     We have a system which more and more rewards those who steal others pension systems and destroy jobs and who can come up with the most creative fraud scheme, not entrepreneurial capitalism.  Pagans are not the only ones to see that this is perverse and self-defeating and unsustainable, but we are more mindful of these considerations than the general public and so we feel compelled to point them out.  We don’t accept the idea that criticizing a broken system makes us socialist.  If anything, we are mourning the loss of true capitalism to a kind of feudalism which deliberately seeks to deny the power of hard work and risk taking to advance oneself, as a way to safeguard wealth which is the product of family and government connection, not innovation. THAT is a very real form of socialism, just one that happens to be flowing upward rather than downward. To the extent the pagan community “identifies with the underclasses,” that says far more about the state of our society than it does pagans.  We have our drifters and mooches and slugabeds, to be sure, but the vast majority of pagans I have known are very well educated and hard working with very solid work histories. The sort of people who, in our parents and grandparents eras, earned enough to support a very decent middle class standard of living with ONE earner in the family. The fact that tens of millions can no longer do so even with two jobs, is proof that our system has become “anti-commercial” not the pagan community. 

  • Sunweaver

    “Being able to put food on the table is not less spiritually important than being able to commune with the Gods.”

    I’m nodding my head over here. Can you feel the wind?
    In fact, it was from Buddhism that I derived this concept as part of my spiritual path. The ordinary, everyday things are important to your spiritual development and (in Buddhism) the Gods don’t even necessarily have to enter into it. Of course, the Gods do have to enter into it for me, but not for attaining some blessed afterlife. Sure, that would be nice, but we are living this life here and now. The blessings of the Theoi are for here and now.

    The Buddha teaches awareness, not only of one’s own internal workings, but of the external environment. If you are hungry, eat. If you are tired, rest. In the words of my high school art teacher, “Draw what you see, not what you think you see.” I consider it to be the blessings of Apollon when you are able to do this and it’s not some distant post-mortem existence we’re aiming for, but the ability to live in right relationship with our environment, our gods, and the people around us.

  • blackpagan

    I find the Buddhist practice of mindfulness to be very sympatico with the pagan ideal of finding temporal salvation, enlightenment, joy, well-being — or whatever you want to call it — in the here and now.

  • Anna Korn

    How about defining what ‘temporal salvation’ means to start with?

  • Star Foster

    Definition of TEMPORAL
    a : of or relating to time as opposed to eternity b : of or relating to earthly life
    Definition of SALVATION
    2 : liberation from ignorance or illusion
    3 a : preservation from destruction or failure b : deliverance from danger or difficulty

  • Natalie Reed

    Star – thanks for this – I needed to hear this today