|Used without permission.
If anyone knows the owner of this image, please let me know.
The variety of religions that fall under the pagan umbrella have very few things in common. One thing that many of them do seem to share is that idea that religion is orthopraxic (meaning “right practice” as opposed to the orthodoxy – “right thought” – of the great monotheistic religions.)
Basically, what this means is it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you perform the appropriate rituals. This is why hard polytheists, soft polytheists, animists, atheists and others can all partake in the same circle or rite and have it be a success for everyone involved.
It also means that for any group of ten pagans, you’ll have at least fifteen differing opinions on theology. I know I’m occassionally responsible for two or three conflicting ideas all by myself.
Take the basic question: “What are Gods?”
My concept of divinity has changed greatly over my life. I’ve gone from the pure monotheism – or tritheism? – of Christianity, to a very soft polytheism of a neo-Wiccan variety: all gods are one god, all goddesses are one goddess. For a long time I embraced the idea of a sort of a monotheistic polytheism: there is one divine essence and each individual deity is a different facet of that Being.
After interacting with a few individual deities, I adopted a fairly hard polytheism: everybody’s their own person, period.
Lately I’ve been fascinated by liberal Christianity (something I was taught was an oxymoron during my church days) and the idea of a supreme force for “love and logic.” But I also know my own Gods are real and unique. And I know that they are truly Gods, not spirits masquerading as deities as some Christians would have me believe.
This is where my beliefs are right now:
There is a divine essence that pervades everything: Gods, people, poodles, dahlias, rocks, styrofoam. Some entities are closer to this essence, or contain more of it than others: Gods more than people, people more than poodles and dahlias, everything more than styrofoam. This essence may or may not be sentient, may or may not be what created the universe, may or may not be what the monotheists are referring to when they speak of their one God. It is almost certainly Bono’s* force for love and logic. But it is not the God of the literal Bible or Koran, not concerned with laying down laws or how individual members of humanity live their day to day lives.
The Gods that we know are exactly what They appear to be. Powerful and unique entities with Their own personalities and agendas, responsible for parts of the workings of the world. They are not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent except in their own areas of interest. Many of these Gods do take an interest in humanity, wholesale or retail, and therefore can be petitioned or appeased. Like any individuals They can and do form various types of relationships with other entities.
Some believe in a single pantheon – sun god, fertility goddess, gods of war, thunder, wine, death – and that every war God, for example, is actually another name for Ares and every thunder God is Zeus. It is not uncommon among Hellenic pagans – there is one pantheon and that the Theoi are the most perfect conceptions of it. I toyed with this idea, too, but in the end its not how I see it. I’ve interacted with Odin. I’ve interacted with Hermes. Many ancients equated the two. It is obvious to me, having “met” the both of them, that this is most definately not the case.
Nor do I think that every time humans come up with a new divine name that a new God is born. Its complicated. Sometimes its just tribal migration and language shift. Sometimes they actually are talking about someone completely different. When the Greeks discovered Egyptian religion and began worshipping Aset as Isis, they were honoring a completely new goddess. I’ve talked to enough followers of both deities who attest to their differences that I strongly believe this. Yet in my own UPG Dionysos and the Roman Bacchus are identical (but not the same as the Roman God Liber, who was equated with Bacchus by the Romans.)
I’m sure there are many who disagree with me, particularly on that last bit of UPG. But because of orthopraxy, it would not interfere with our worship. I and my friend can both partake in a ritual for Bacchus, and if I believe He is Dionysos and my friend believes He is Liber it makes no difference to the rite.
This is what I’ve come to believe at this point in time – my personal theology. I’m fairly sure it will continue to change and evolve as I do. Because in the end, I am an agnostic – I believe that the Divine is truly incomprehensible from our point of view, and that while some ideas may come closer to the truth than others, that Truth is bigger than all of us. Combined.
*No, I am not an advocate of the idea of rock star as religious role model – and this particular rock star would be the first to agree with me – but I do like the way he talks about God and faith.