I won’t bore my readers with a detailed day-by-day account of how I came to be Pagan. The tale wouldn’t sound unusual to my co-religionists: the grumpy-old-lady Sunday school teachers who told me I’d go to Hell (judgmental Christians started many of us on the road to Pagandom); the emptiness of a purely secular lifestyle; a growing reverence for nature and concern for the environment; a period of exploration, mostly through books, of the various spiritual alternatives; and a casual decision to check out a Beltane ritual in Balboa Park one sunny day in San Diego. There are lots of accounts on the internet – for example, here and here – that differ in detail from my personal saga, yet give the general flavor of it.
There’s one idiosyncratic feature of my spiritual choice I do want to dwell on, however – I’m a Pagan because it suits my politics. Let me explain.
In my very first posting, way back in March, I noted that my regard for ancient Paganism developed in tandem with my political orientation. I’m focused on swaying voters, rather than casting spells, and I’m not inclined to take a spiritual path that won’t lead to a viable political conclusion. As a teenager, I read Plutarch, who was a priest of Apollo at Delphi, and I found his mild yet telling comments on ambitious office-seekers and the governance of states to be both amusing and true-to-life.
So, what’s politically appealing about Paganism?
As I said in my last posting, my religion is peculiar in two ways: (1) we venerate many Divine Beings, not just one, and (2) our Deities inhabit the Earth, not some far-off transcendent domain. Both of these are important to me.
Being polytheists, Pagans don’t expect a uniform world, and since we anticipate diversity, we aren’t put off by it. In olden days, when everyone was Pagan, each people worshiped its own Pantheon, and even when two nations happened to revere the same Deities, they did it under different names and with different rites. And yet one people’s customs implied no criticism of another people’s contrary practices – each was assumed to be appropriate for its own time and place.
Consequently, Pagans aren’t jihadists. We aren’t big on standardized solutions. We presume human variability must be accommodated in politics, as in the rest of life. Because people will always have their disagreements, we don’t expect we’ll ever see a world without conflict. We’re prepared to fight to defend our ancestral homeland. But we’ve no inclination to force our values on others.
That’s where I’m coming from. Other people seem to think politics is simple. I find it to be very complicated – a multitude of different factions jostling for power, each with something plausible to say for itself. Principles that everyone considers desirable – say, majority rule and human rights – often clash and demand each other’s diminution. One-sided solutions, in fact, never seem to work. I believe in political pluralism – the notion that every group should organize to promote its interests, and no group should expect to prevail all the time. Repression of any viewpoint is undesirable, I feel, and a violent revolution almost never achieves its ends.
Naturally, I’ve no use for the intolerant, all-or-nothing politics of contemporary America. And without meaning to cast aspersions on anyone personally, I’ll note that the Abrahamic religions, with their focus on the alleged clash between Absolute Good and Evil, are at the root of much globalized bloodshed these days.
Pagan Deities are immanent – that is, embedded in the material world. For us, physical things are embodiments of Spiritual Forces that’ve shaped substance around themselves. The Goddesses and Gods of Paganism are personifications of the laws of nature – which scientists take to be mindless regularities in the movement of matter, but Pagans deem to be insubstantial Beings, very powerful and very real. Billions of years ago, an assortment of the leading Spirits surrounding our planetary Mother combined to create the conditions for life that finally led to ourselves. We owe these Entities our worship and our gratitude. We’re their latest progeny.
Pagans understand that interruptions of the natural order are more than simply mistakes in resource management – errors correctable with better cost/benefit analyses. To wound nature is sacrilege. Even if land is used to best economic advantage – maybe especially if it’s used to best economic advantage – it may be despoiled and defiled, and that’s a rape of Mother Earth, the greatest crime there can be. We shouldn’t expect this ultimate disrespect to go unpunished, and chastisement has perhaps been reserved for our generation. Gaia has engendered monsters before, and Zeus isn’t around anymore to hold them in check. If there’s any chance of avoiding the worst, it’ll only be because persons of a Pagan sensibility can make the proper amends.
I could go on and on about this, but it’s time to be winding up the posting. My politics tends towards compromise, not confrontation, and environmental degradation is an issue on which I feel passionately. I could maybe bring these two items together by saying that, to a Pagan, a good political situation is like a healthy ecosystem – lots of diversity, based on natural inclinations, uncontaminated by too much artificial human intervention. I’ll pontificate on that another time.
Next posting, back to Trump.
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