Friday, February 23, 2007

What Paganism Means to me

“Pagan” is the word I have adopted to described my most profound attitudestoward the world and every thing in it: I am a Pagan. I am a lot of other things, of course: a man, an American, a grandfather, a lawyer, a gardener, a writer, a cook, a licensed driver, and so on. But the aspects of my self that I call “Pagan” have become increasingly important to me.

Butwhat does that mean? The gods stalked me or I stalked them for a number of years but they struck suddenly. Others, as I understand it, have had a similar experience: years of questing and experimenting and lurking around the edges of this thing, half-embarrassed dilettantism and fuzzy-minded speculation, until, one day, one night, one hour, in some ceremony, maybe with a group one has shyly crept into or maybe alone with some half-assed improvisation conducted in the back yard, suddenly there is an answer, a surge, a presence,and the world changes for you.

“Like coming home.” I’ve seen others describe this experience that way since then, and that, I swear, is exactly what I thought. I suppose people say that for the same reason people who’ve been near a tornado say “It sounded just like a freight train,” because that’s what it sounds like.

But one enters that old homeplace without necessarily remembering how the furniture is placed or when dinner is served. You have to figure out what it’s all about for yourself (although there’s help available these days.)

Maybe you don’t really need to analyze it too much. Those of us -- which is all of us -- who were raised in the world made by the Religions of the Book are inclined to think that religion should give a comprehensive account of the world, its fate and that of the little folk who adhere to it.

Religion hasn’t always been that way. It’s clear that in Old Rome and Greece, your religion was something you did, not something believed. The pious were those who performed the rites correctly as they had always been performed, and the prophets were those who came up with new rites. Religion, “Re-linking” or “tying back” in Latin, was community magic performed to keep the world on its proper course and the community stable. It was not necessary to believe anything.

Questions of final truth, of the nature of the gods, the fate of man after death, the end of the world were matters for poets or philosophers. And the argument could be made that the philosophers, in their desire to reduce to universe to tidy categories, paved the road to the hell of monotheism.

But I, raised in the chattering and organizing class, can’t really resist the philosophical impulse. I’ve spent more than 20 years trying to figure out what being Pagan means (along with what to call it.). I’ve come up with the following tentative creed which works for me here today.

The universe inhabited by many consciousnesses, some older and some younger, some faster and some slower, some larger and smaller, but none greater and none lesser than I.

The real gods are with us, in our blood, in the dirt beneath our feet, and in the stars and in the void. When we learn to perceive them, we must love them because they are beautiful and graceful, and even terrible. But we are neither their property nor their slaves, although we may sometimes be their prey.

There is a force we call magic which is the very sinews that hold the universe together. By it the gods mold, maintain and destroy all the worlds, but so may we. All the many consciousness of the universe has access to magic in its kind and to the extent of its strength. As such, we, as humans, must be objects of creation and destruction, but are also its subjects and its verbs.

This human race, the mass of hairless apes of earth, has been brought to grief for more than two millennia under the delusion of its helpless subjugation to a life-hating cosmic despot. Betrayed by that delusion, our species stands near to a well-earned extinction, but there is too much good in us to go without a fight -- and there is still time.

Every single thing at every single moment is absolutely unique and and inextricably intertwined with and dependent upon every other unique thing. Nothing is ever finally complete and nothing is every truly lost.

One last conclusion: there is no end to quest for answersto this question. Anyone who thinks that the answers they’ve found are the final answers is a fool, and a dangerous fool at that. To represent the whole of reality would require a brain larger than the entire universe.

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