Views of Deity
Robin and I leaned against the rock. The moon shone full on the rippling waters of the lake behind us, and the night was redolent with the drums and songs of our people. What a night! As the night enfolded us, we quietly discussed the ritual we had just come from. Its purpose, its design, its ritual intent. We talked of psychological aspects of our environment, the physiological impact of the dark and quiet. Finally, our covenmate – in complete disgust – burst out, "You know what’s wrong with you people?! You think too much." And left.
To say that we were surprised would be a supreme understatement. What in the world was that? As our annoyed covener stalked off in the dark to reclaim her mysteries – only somewhat dimmed by our analysis – we came to some interesting conclusions.
Recaiming the mystery
Spirituality is the path whereby we find a sense of art and meaning that allows us to exist within an environment of hope, promise and potential. It not only includes a pattern of reality, but provides a tradition and path for future endeavors.
These glimpses of what might be, allow us to create a unique place for our own gifts and contributions. And within the Pagan paths our choices are even more broad and rich as we select from many traditions and cultures.
However, what is a path for one person, is a labryrinth for the next. And what seems plain as the voice of the Goddess to one covener, is a great source for explanation and exploration to another. How can this be?
By any other name
Religion fills a wide variety of needs for an even wider variety of people. It has social mores built in. It provides for courtesies among peers, and offers definitions of paths and contributions that its members can bring to their community – healing, counseling, service, child care – all these roles are valued and defined through the mythology that religion provides. It reflects our values and expresses our ethics through norms and traditions. Religion is an entire representation of who our community is and what that community offers its members.
And there are levels of support within that community that appeal to each of us in different circumstances and times of our life. Sometimes we need more structure, such as when we are seeking out definitions to our path. Other times we have energy and ideas and seek service through leadership.
Religion and Magick –
not superstition or silly platitudes
Religion is also the process through which we create our worldview and endow it with meaning and art. It is the total reflection of a culture – based on its values, expressed through its norms, social customs and spiritual observances. Paganism is the broad umbrella under which we have grouped many religions and paths based on a few common characteristics. Primarily, Pagan religions understand our responsibility to all aspects of our world and our lives, and are cognizant of a responsibility to honor, protect and repair our Earth so that it continues to provide an environment of plenty, and potential. Pagan religion also believes that all positive paths, those which contribute to growth and harmony of their members are valid and valued religious paths. Thus, Pagans are aware and respectful of many faiths and belief systems. Pagans have a deep belief that our thoughts and beliefs are powerful messengers of our magickal energy, and there is a deep-rooted sense of personal responsibility and commitment to our communities. Our belief that we are all part of the original creation and energies which caused all this to come into being, brings a realization that all people are sacred, and thus we enjoy an optimism about our world and its potential.
So, Pagan paths recognize the competence and divinity of all peoples – and this can include non-human species. Wicca and Paganism are celebratory religions, taking joy in all aspects and facets of life: birth, death, love, creation, new beginnings, change and devotion. Though there may be sorrow through loss of a loved one, we know that our friend will return renewed and energized. Our rituals and gatherings bring power and celebrate our common understanding of natural rhythms in each of us. Such gatherings and wellwishings for abundance, happiness and growth have solidified over the years into ritual and ceremony. Thus not only we, but all of our community, can bring to bear the power and strength of their will into common goals. Nor do these goals transgress the natural order of our world. For we are a people that delight in investigation and inquiry. And we live with our world, not eager to somehow transcend into a vision of a more ethereal realm. Witches are creatures of this earth, and celebrate its cycle. Our magick is part of the fabric of reality, not in opposition to what we know to be reality.
Magick, rather than being an inept fantasy that modern psychologists have labeled it, is simply the combination of physical and mental will, focused with intent, to bring about a particular event, situation or desired outcome. This does not sound much like idle fantasy and ineffective whining. Wishful thinking is the combination of a desire with no effort behind it. Magick requires a strong mind and focus of will. While not as much fun as Mickey’s cool hat, and great orchestral backup, it is much more likely to bring about the desired result.
Magick and ritual are the ceremonies and celebrations that we use to acknowledge the gifts we have received and to bring into being new projects, paths and contributions we offer our community, Gods, religions and all the Children of the Gods.
Deity, Goddess, Mother, Father, Krishna, All
Paganism allows its members to be uniquely interactive in selecting those whom they will choose to honor in their spiritual path. There are a variety of aspects to this choice and to a large part, those choices depend substantially on how we each view our Gods.
Some folks see all existence as a single, complex, expression of deity. Others focus on discreet aspects of our world such as Nature, or Motherhood, or the Protector to represent the Divine or Sacred. Many may honor a multitude of different aspects called a pantheon – or cultural collection of deity – for their rituals, celebrations and cultural definition.
Our beliefs and choices in this area generally reflect our conscious beliefs. Those we can express in words. There is little language available for the experiences we immerse ourselves in as we engage in ritual and magick.
Oh, now I see!
This is the area which got us into such trouble with our fellow covener. She had a much different way of regarding her sacred focus deity, and her practice of her religious tradition, path and rituals. Our friend regarded her experience within the ritual we shared as deeply personal, real and a direct contact with the Goddess. We, on the other hand, experienced that to some extent, but were more aware of the effect on the group, how it answered the needs of the population, how it might be more effective or better directed. Our analytical focus tended to interfere with her ability to sustain a more direct, emotional experience.
Neither or us was right or wrong, but this interaction did start us on (once more!) an exploration of how people regard and experience their religion and Gods.
We were able to such beliefs into three broad categories. However, we quickly discovered that people tend to use aspects of more than one of these categories. Years ago in an interview with Isaac Bonewits I asked him how he regarded the Gods, were they alive and real, were they mental constructs, or Jungian-type archetypes? He smiled, and said, "yes."
This is not an unusual point of view. When a friend said that the Goddess had sent her a vision of what her path would now be, I asked her if that was not she herself choosing a new path? "Of course," she replied. How is it that all these approaches are valid simultaneously?
Its all in a name
When we go to circle and ritual, we worship our gods and honor those aspects of our lives. Worship in the sense of devotion, celebration and honor, to reverence with supreme respect and veneration.
Those to whom the Gods are personal, named entities that seem personal and interactive on a moment to moment basis we call orthodox. Orthodox in the sense that they truly, deeply believe in an independent and personal sacred being.
However, there are also those who will acknowledge Deity only as the existence of the great mystery. This mystery is the faceless face of the ultimate. Yet in order to better use the power of the Sacred and Divine in our lives we put a humanlike overlay, mask or face on the ultimate, so we can relate and perceive. Infinity is too big to be comfortable, so we bring it down into shapes and forms we are familiar with.
There are also those who tend to see the Gods as constructs within the human mind and imagination. These deities are truths, valid ways of making sense out of human thought and experience. Personifications of abstracts. These folks may also hold in abeyance any of the above definitions due to lack of solid evidence – a very difficult point of view.
Most Pagans move back and forth between these categories. So, you will see many combinations of spiritual viewpoint which vary widely even on an hourly or daily basis, depending on the particular view or need. Robin and I discussing the ritual were analytical, yet we also have channeled the God and Goddess – a most orthodox experience.
Answering different calls
Orthodox Pagans and Wiccans live their religion thoroughly woven throughout all of their daily lives. They find richness and meaning in almost all events, and are able to discern paths and future actions based on their view of these daily events as communication and messages from the Gods. Orthodox Wiccans tend to rely more than either of the other groups on this type of personal guidance from their Deity. Orthodox Pagans and Wiccans could benefit with a bit more skepticism in their path, taking on greater autonomy and responsibility for their actions. Your orthodox Pagan may have a strong tendency to attribute their actions solely as a response to the communicated or perceived commands of the deity. This may feel somewhat uncomfortable to a true orthodox Wiccan or Pagan, but it is necessary in order to maintain balance and be in control of the shape of our lives – even while using cues from the Gods’ daily presence in our lives.
Many Pagans and Wiccans acknowledge the Gods, but see them as the ultimate mystery – not necessarily present as an independent entity providing us with constant guidance for our actions. These Pagans tend to see deity as a metaphor, a personalized overlay for the ultimate mystery that is reality and creation, and thus we are able to be more comfortable interacting with deity and the ultimate unknowable. These individuals seek to know more about the origins and reality of their world and its mysteries, thus they explore the science of ontology – originations. Ontological Wiccans and Pagans need to be careful not to get too scattered. These creative and flexible folks see so many facets of the Gods that it blurs their focus and they are drawn away from the primary need to connect with their community, to feel the cycle of the year and to see the Gods as reflected in each other. Even though the cycle of the year is celebrated, it can become just a mish-mash because no one can tell who or what is being celebrated.
Analytical or skeptical
The final group of Pagans are Wiccans and other traditions which enjoy deep and intricate dialogue and see every unknown item as something to be analyzed, taken apart, categorized and reassembled into a seamless whole along with psychology, science and religious practice. These analytical Wiccans are very skeptical by nature, and their primary need is to weave back into their lives the hands-on and direct link to the Gods that the Orthodox and Ontological Wiccans enjoy. This group uses skepticism as its base tool for every interaction, and can be so caught up in details and discrepancy within rituals, ceremonies, mythology, and magick as practiced that they lose the richness and depth of the Wiccan path. Of all the Wiccans, Analytical Wiccans are most likely to interact with members of other Wiccan groups on a strictly intellectual level. They may not comprehend or recognize the depth and emotion non-analytical Wiccan devote to their lifestyle and beliefs. Thus, their observations and comments can easily seem callous or rude, when in fact, their intentions were benign or neutral.
A dash of this and that
While these categories seem to imply that folks fall into one category or another, it is not that simple. Most folks tend to move back and forth between these viewpoints using each vantage as a tool to interact most effectively with their friends, neighbors, professional environment or other responsibilities.
While all of these choices in worldview are functional in one realm or another, it is up to us to decide, rationally, which will be more appropriate and allow us to optimize our lives and community. To do this we must be able to choose our viewpoint based not on our fears or joys, but on a true assessment of what works best. As with most situations, we must first be in control of our energy, magickal and otherwise, and that includes the powerful energy produced through our emotions.
And now for something completely different
So, finally, we come back to our exasperated covenmate. And we can understand her point of view. We were indulging in the analytical/skeptical dissection of an experience that to her was a unique personal message from her Gods. She saw our intellectual exploration as invasive and demeaning. We saw it as insightful and exciting.
Fortunately, our analytical nature was able to provide us with a tool to keep us out of trouble. By realizing that there are such a variety of ways to regard our Gods and our interactions with them, we learned how to better honor those in each of their methods of interaction. Rather than seeing folks as too analytical, or too direct, we can simply see that they are experiencing in a manner that differs from ours at the moment. And, we can shift our perception and language to better communicate with people in each experiential aspect. Thus, we can further growth, harmony and potential throughout our community and religious community by our deepened understanding.
From analytical, to the deepest emotional trance, all facets of the divine enrich our lives.
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