Religion provides the solution to something. It identifies a problem, prescribes a method by which to resolve that problem. That resolution in religious terms is known as salvation. While the concept of salvation is almost exclusively identified with the Christian religion in our culture, it actually predates it. Savior is an epithet given to many old Gods, such as Hecate. Salvation from death was the main purpose behind rites such as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
As I’m trying to absorb Gregory Shaw’s Theurgy and the Soul into my incredibly dense brain, I’m finding this ancient Pagan preoccupation with the salvation of the soul troubling. I think what it is I find troubling about it explains the clearest and most obvious difference between ancient and modern Paganism.
I like to say the biggest difference between Pagan religions and other religions is that other faiths begin with the concept that there is something inherently fallen, wrong, sinful or harmful about the world as it is. Paganism, however, celebrates the world as it is. Pagans don’t begin by thinking there is anything wrong with our world, with our nature or with our souls.However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t see something wrong and believe we can fix it. What we see as wrong is our society, our culture and our relationship to nature. However, those aren’t eternal things. Should our society, culture and relationship to nature transform, then there would be no salvation in Paganism. Or would there?
I refuse to believe there is a natural sinfulness in my soul, that I must correct my soul or become more than human to rectify it. I’m happy to be human, I believe it to be a blessing and a gift and feel no desire to transcend my humanity. Maybe there’s a bit of an Epicurean in me, but I do believe we are meant to take pleasure in our lives and in this world.
Yet we do practice towards a purpose. What is that purpose? Maybe our purpose is to bring order to the Universe? That we are co-creators with the Gods and Divine Beings, and we have our own role to fill in maintaining the cosmos? Maybe we fight entropy? Maybe we fight carelessness?
Or maybe we have no grand purpose? Maybe we just are? Maybe our practice is just comforting superstition? Would that be a bad thing?