What Is Our Purpose?

I’m still reading about Iamblichean NeoPlatonism, and it’s percolating in the back of my brain. As I’m wrapping mind around these Pagan hierarchies, unities and divisions of the soul, these intricate systems designed to explain our lives and give them direction, I’m surprised to find it a bit devoid of meaning.

Most religions insist we don’t belong here. We’re trying to get back to where we came from. Redeem our fallen state or liberate ourselves from the illusions of the material world. Some Pagan religions have these theologies. Returning to the source, gaining access to the highest plane, becoming like the Gods.

Aside from these theologies of transcendence and liberation, what is the purpose of humanity from a Pagan viewpoint?

In Heathen mythos, what is our purpose? To aid the Gods at Ragnarok?

In Hellenic religion, what is our purpose?  To maintain order out of chaos?

In Roman religion, what is our purpose? To maintain balance?

In Wicca, what is our purpose? To ensure rebirth and reunion?

In Druidry, what is our purpose? To steward nature?

What do you think our purpose is?

About Star Foster

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

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bishopinthegrove Teo Bishop

    These are interesting questions, Star.

    I think the purpose of humanity is to be fully human. It is to live consciously, fully engaged. How we get to a place of deeper engagement is really dependent upon our individual temperaments.

    With that said, my experience is that by honoring the Gods, by seeking order in chaos (or, at times, the other way around), by holding the balance, by remaining aware of the cycles of my life, and by being a responsible steward of the land I can better enter in to a state of deep awareness. These acts are not prescriptive; they aren’t commandments. Rather, I see them as descriptive; they are the ways in which I can experience the fullness of my humanity.

    Does that makes sense?

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       It does. So why do you think we exist to begin with?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bishopinthegrove Teo Bishop

        I believe that is for each of us to discover individually. There is no one answer to that question.

        • blackpagan

          Ding ding ding! We have a winner, folks!

      • LezlieKinyon

         We evolved because the conditions for the evolution of homo sapiens was favorable.  That may seem simplistic on the surface, but it is actually very complex – and, truly, quite wondrous.  All else follows.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Read the Discourses of Epictetus (link). His teachings are all centered on the basic question of “how should I live my life?” While this is also true of Iamblichus, etc.,  it comes through more clearly and directly in Epictetus’ Discourses.

    Another issue is that the writings of teachers like Plotinus, Iamblichus, and so forth generally assume a strong grounding in Plato’s dialogues, and especially in the more mundane, ethical teachings found in such dialogues as Laches (on courage), Charmides (on temperance), and Lysis (on friendship), and especially the Alcibiades, in which Socrates gives his interpretation of the Delphic Maxim “Know Thyself”. You really can’t just jump right into the more advanced metaphysical stuff (well, you can, but you are right now experiencing the result of doing that).

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       I’ve wandered through Plato and Aristotle in my time. Thanks.

      How you should live your life, and why you are alive are two different subjects.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        They are one and the same question.

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

           Let me know when you choose to engage in discussion rather than pedantry.

          They are not the same things at all. A person may spend their time balancing accounts as an accountant, but the fact that they do that, or that they are nice to their neighbor, doesn’t explain why they exist, and what the purpose of their species is.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            Why are you choosing to be insulting? What is up with that?

            Why is your assertion that “How you should live your life, and why you are alive are two different subjects” any less “pedantic” than my assertion that they are one and the same thing?????????????????????

          • Illiezeulette

            Star, if you have not already, I think you should look deeper into Virtue Ethics (begin with Aristotle, then keep going) and the works of Emmauel Levinas.  Ethics and Being, in these schools of thought, are so deeply entwined as to be codependent or one in the same.  Sometimes “to be ethical/live my life X way” is the solution to the question “why am I alive?”  

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

    There are more afterlife options then being picked up by Odin or Freyja for the front line at Ragnarok.  You can join your Ancestors.  You can become a Family Spirit.  You can do all of the above. 

    But IMHO we should be be looking for a cause in the afterlife as our destiny in this one.  The Asatru religion is a world-accepting religion meaning that it is our responsibility and duty to make this place the best it can be.  We do that so that we can be “immortal”  and have our name life forever through our works, deeds and children. 

    We will be our legacy.  That is what will speak for us when we are gone.  And the next life will take care of itself. 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       But what is the purpose of humanity according to Heaten religion? Why do humans exist in the first place?

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

         ”But what is the purpose of humanity according to Heaten religion? Why do humans exist in the first place?”

        Umm.  You assume that it’s all about us humans: it’s not.  When the universe started, the ending was written at the same time.  But only much, much later did Odin make Ask and Embla.  (All via Voluspa.)  Presumably, Odin made folks to carry on his legacy or help fight at Ragnorok, sure.  But your first question is very different then this one.  The Asatru religion is a method for each of us to answer the question of what one should be doing with their life. 

  • GwendolynnNoel

    Well, I look at it this way…the farther we delve into the universe, the bigger and more complex it becomes, whether you go out into space, or inward studying molecules and particles. This makes me believe that our purpose is simply to discover. When you look back through history, it is, after all what we humans are best at. Learning and evolving , what we do with this knowledge when we die, however, eludes me.

  • Limnaia

    Oooh, very interesting questions. I don’t have an answer off the top of my head, which means I’m going to try and articulate my best guess and see if I can refine it through discussion.

    First off – I am not describing any kind of party line here – the traditions which have influenced me all offer their varying takes on things, but I won’t be articulating them. This is my jumbled understanding. woven from other things.

    As to what the point of humanity is, I’m honestly not sure. Individual people may well have a purpose, but I don’t know if all people have the same purpose. I would argue that as a species, we’re not much different to other animals on the planet. I don’t ask myself what the purpose of cows are, so why humans? Admittedly, this shows my personal bias, in that I don’t think humans are all that special, despite what my mythos of choice tells me. 

    I think it’s when we talk about individual purpose that things get interesting. Perhaps the one thing that I think does make our species pretty awesome is that we can each find an individual purpose in life. These purposes may or may not be the same. They may even go against what a tradition teaches me. 

    (While the Gods I am closest to are Norse Gods, I do not believe in Ragnarok and do not think that my Gods want or need my help with it in any case. I am all but certain that if Loki and Hela want to have a big fight with the Aesir, they do not need some slightly chubby British girl to help them out. Also, I quite like some of the Aesir and wouldn’t really want to fight them anyway.)

    So, what do I think my individual purpose is? To love this world and this life with all my might and all my heart. The way I do that happens to involve my spirituality quite heavily – and with that spirituality comes other additional duties and methods that will help me stretch towards that purpose. My purpose, as I understand it, is not an end goal, but a state of being. My job is to learn to cultivate that state and seek to return to it as best as I can.

    Beyond this life, I’ve no idea. Guess I’ll find out when I get there.

  • http://readingsbyautumn.tumblr.com/ Autumn

    If this were a Christian discussion the answer would be that the Judeo-Christian god created us to worship him.  Paganism doesn’t really put an emphasis on worship, there is an emphasis on sacrifice, but not Worship.  A quick search took me to this link.  http://www.englishfolkchurch.com/Lorehoard/allfather-odin.htm
    Per this site, we were created with aspects of the gods who created us.  With this theory, maybe humanity was created to “feed” the egos of the gods.  Why else would you want to create a “mini-me”?

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    As a Druid I look to Nature for wisdom.  Observing Nature and seeing the way of Life and living things, I’ve come to the conclusion that my purpose is to learn and grow, and to help others to learn and grow. 

    Growth toward what end?  Evolution has no foresight – I don’t know that there is an end or an overriding goal.  I just know that in struggling to survive and succeed, Great Things are accomplished.

  • eelsalad

    I think we’re here so that the divine can experience itself through us. To fulfill our purpose, we must be fully human, fully present, fully self-possessed. We must know ourselves in all our parts so that all our parts may participate in the experience of being human at this moment. The divine delights in variety and connection, which requires multitudes. The Book of the Law quotes Nuit as saying “For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.” I see humans as part of the divided state.

    My path, such as it is, isn’t a particular brand/tradition of paganism, at least not yet. I am a student with Morningstar Mystery School under T. Thorn Coyle.

    • Ywendragoneye

      Yes, well said and thank you for the reference above. I tend to sway toward the all-gods-are-one-god line of thinking. That the Supreme Being (Godde) was “lonely” (so to speak) and all of creation is a way for Godde to experience companionship in all forms. Thus, we crave to be reunited with Godde, and we are all Divine as well. I see Godde as a tree, branching out from the source to the various God/Goddess forms on down the line to humans. It is through us and all of creation that Godde experiences life.

  • Robert Mathiesen

    Hmmm!  A fascinating question.  Let me try my hand at an answer of sorts, based on my own seven decades of experience.

    First of all, the Gods — so far as i can judge from my own experience — are many, not one; and they are real, not just human constructs.  Also — and these are the two most important points! — the Gods seem to me to work very much at cross purposes with one another, and they only marginally involve human beings in these various purposes of theirs. 

    The Gods seem to me to have no obvious common, long-range goal toward which *all of them* work together always, though some of them seem to cooperate with one another on occasion.  If they do have such a common, long-range goal, it is wholly beyond human comprehension and cannot be conveyed to us in any human language.  Either way, we humans are most definitely not at the center of the Gods’ attention.  At best, we are on the periphery of their interests and purposes, if we are not wholly irrelevant to these things.

    Because of this, it seems that the Gods have not imposed any grand plan or purpose on humanity, or assigned much of any significance to human life.  How then, shall we live, if we need meaning and purpose? 

    Perhaps the best we can do is to try to create our own meanings and purposes for our own individual lives, more or less competently. 

    One natural touchstone that we all have, as we try to do this, is simply this: can we bear to get up in the morning and think about what we have done so far without a crippling amount of self-loathing?  (This is not quite the same thing as shame or as guilt, each of which can be eased by changing how we act.  Self-loathing is a different sort of thing, and can only be eased by changing who we are.) 

    If we can’t pass this test, what hinders us, and how must we change who we are (or what we are) to remove the hindrance?  One needs to “Know thyself” here, to know oneself truly, deeply, courageously, and honestly.  Then — and only then — one needs to develop the skill of remaking one’s own self, one’s very being, so that — after much very hard work — there is nothing left in oneself that one loathes.  This is a tough assignment, and hardly anyone finishes it within the span of one human life.

    There is one huge trap to avoid in all this.  One must not assume that this process will necessarily change us all in similar ways, or that at its end we will all be able to work together in harmony toward some common, shared purpose.  Even as the Gods work at cross purposes with one another, so too — it is reasonable to suppose — even after all this hard work of self-knowledge and self-re-creation, we human beings will also continue to work at cross purposes with one another.  There is no golden age of harmony at the end of this road along which we are all walking, but all things — as Empedocles already knew so long ago — will continue to be moved by both love and strife.

    And when we have created some meaning and purpose for our own individual lives, each one of us will discover that what he or she have created for himself or herself is not quite the same thing as what any of our neighbors has created in his or her turn.  Just as the Gods are many, so we, too, will always be many, not one.  

    Yet even so, each of us may perhaps recognize, when the work of creating meaning and purpose is done, that he or she did not work alone, but that one or another of the Gods lent a hand, more or less subtly, to the work we are doing.  The results will differ from one person to another as one or another God has lent a hand.  The Gods are not merely many, but also diverse.

    Having said all this, I must also say in the end that these words of mine are just a very crude approximation to what is really going on, as if “knowledge” of the nature of the Gods had something in common with knowledge of any mundane thing — as if it could be taught, analyzed or confuted like, say, a knowledge of physics or ethics.  Iamblichus makes it quite clear, at the beginning of _On the Mysteries_ (book I, chapter iii), that this is by no means the case: “the contact which we have with the Divine is not to be taken as knowledge.  Knowledge, after all, is separated [from the thing known] by some degree of otherness.  Prior to such knowledge, knowing another as being itself another, there is a unitary connection with the Gods, natural and inseparable.”  (But what Iamblichus says is very hard — perhaps impossible — to grasp fully unless one has already experienced the Gods.  This is why initiation, or equivalent experience at the hands of the Gods themselves, is worth having.)

  • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com/ ladyimbrium

    I suspect that the first answer you got is going to prove the most enduring- we’re here to be here. It has long been my belief that we are (to paraphrase one of my favorite Sci-Fi shows of all time) little bits of the Universe trying to figure itself out. Order, balance, rebirth, stewardship, interaction with other beings and levels of beings are all parts of the answer. Of course, as the ancients showed us, no two people are likely to agree on exactly how to go about doing these things…

  • LezlieKinyon

    I grew up with Native American relatives. The Aunties taught us: “You are where you belong, between Earth and Sky.  Your brothers and sisters are the other creatures on this Earth.”  Today, after many years of study, I have come back to this, and have added the ideas of beauty from the SW traditions and somewhat of the idea of the sublime that the Romantics explored.   As a young student I studied the humanistic tradition and embraced the idea of living an authentic life … between all of these there is both meaning and joy in living. 

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    While I wouldn’t be too insistent on this for anyone other than myself, I have a fairly decent answer from my Ekklesía Antínoou viewpoint.  Our purpose is to find the thing that gives zing to every aspect of our life–spiritually, socially, emotionally, erotically, etc.–and then to make that the center of everything.  Or, to put it in EA terms, Haec est unde vita venit, “This is where life comes from,” no matter what the individual’s “this” happens to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marienne.foxwood Marienne Hartwood

    For me, I’m here as a data collection device for the divine that I work with. Thus, my goal is to go out and collect the widest range of quality data by living life to its fullest. Then, when my time is up, I bring back all I have experienced to that divine to add to the understanding of all-that-is.

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

     I don’t find a teleological approach to existence necessary or even useful.

    I find beauty more convincing than purpose.

    Thus, my take is that we are each to strive to live our individual nature as fully as possible, and that the interaction of those different natures creates beauty, just as it is the interaction of differing colors that create beauty in a tapestry.

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    Star - 

    My response to you is, “Does it matter?”  

    To go a bit deeper than that, Are you asking for a generalized big-P Purpose for humanity as a whole, or are you looking for a little-p purpose for a single individual?  

    “All the principles of heaven and earth are living inside you. Life itself is the truth, and this will never change.”  -Morihei Oeshiba, the Art of Peace

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I wouldn’t have asked if it didn’t matter.

      Worse, I’m asking for traditions to explain the existence and purpose of humanity. No special snowflake or diluted overarching blandness.

      • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

        Star wrote:
        Worse, I’m asking for traditions to explain the existence and purpose of humanity. 

        Hm.  I see those as two utterly different questions.  The existence part is easy, it is the ‘purpose’ part that I have difficulty with.

        Does a flower have a purpose beyond attracting pollinators?  

        Does a cloud need a reason for being?

        I think the reason the Gods made us is ‘because They could’, and ‘Why not?’ and of course, that One in the back saying, ‘Are You sure this is a good idea?’ and the response of, ‘Sure, what’s the worst that can happen?’

        To me, a question of ‘the purpose of humanity’ is like saying ’2+apple = blue.’


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