Monday, July 22, 2013

Paganism


Paganism is the ancestral religion of the whole of humanity. This ancient religious outlook remains active throughout much of the world today, both in complex civilisations such as Japan and India, and in less complex tribal societies world-wide. It was the outlook of the European religions of classical antiquity – Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome – as well as of their “barbarian” neighbours on the northern fringes, and its European form is re-emerging into explicit awareness in the modern West as the articulation of urgent contemporary religious priorities.

The Pagan outlook can be seen as threefold. Its adherents venerate Nature and worship many deities, both goddesses and gods.

Nature – Veneration

The spirit of place is recognised in Pagan religion, whether as a personified natural feature such as a mountain, lake or spring, or as a fully articulated guardian divinity such as, for example, Athena, the goddess of Athens. The cycle of the natural year, with the different emphasis brought by its different seasons, is seen by most Pagans as a model of spiritual growth and renewal, and as a sequence marked by festivals which offer access to different divinities according to their affinity with different times of year. Many Pagans see the Earth itself as sacred: in ancient Greece the Earth was always offered the first libation of wine, although She had no priesthood and no temple.

 

Polytheism: Pluralism and Diversity

The many deities of Paganism are a recognition of the diversity of Nature. Some Pagans see the goddesses and gods as a community of individuals much like the diverse human community in this world. Others, such as followers of Isis and Osiris from ancient times onwards, and Wiccan-based Pagans in the modern world, see all the goddesses as one Great Goddess, and all the gods as one Great God, whose harmonious interaction is the secret of the universe. Yet others think there is a supreme divine principle, that “both wants and does not want to be called Zeus”, as Heraclitus wrote in the fifth century BCE, or which is the Great Goddess Mother of All Things, as Isis was to the first century CE novelist Apuleius and the Great Goddess is to many Western Pagans nowadays. Yet others, such as the Emperor Julian, the great restorer of Paganism in Christian antiquity, and many Hindu mystics nowadays, believe in an abstract Supreme Principle, the origin and source of all things. But even these last Pagans recognise that other spiritual beings, although perhaps one in essence with a greater being, are themselves divine, and are not false or partial divinities. Pagans who worship the One are described as henotheists, believers in a supreme divine principle, rather than monotheists, believers in one true deity beside which all other deities are false.

The Goddess

Pagan religions all recognise the feminine face of divinity. A religion without goddesses can hardly be classified as Pagan. Some Pagan paths, such as the cult of Odin or of Mithras, offer exclusive allegiance to one male god. But they do not deny the reality of other gods and goddesses, as monotheists do. (The word ‘cult’ has always meant the specialised veneration of one particular deity or pantheon, and has only recently been extended to mean the worship of a deified or semi-divine human leader.) By contrast, non-Pagan religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, often abhor the very idea of female divinity. The (then) Anglican Bishop of London even said a few years ago that religions with goddesses were ‘degenerate’!


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