Gods and Goddesses Bless America, Too

The quest for religious freedom has always been a part of American culture. Catholics and Protestants alike fled persecution to … Continued

The quest for religious freedom has always been a part of American culture. Catholics and Protestants alike fled persecution to emigrate to the new land. But their freedom to follow their own faiths depended on their willingness to tolerate all the others. Today, the religions struggling for acceptance are traditions such as Wicca and Asatru which have appeared during the last 50 years. Far from being a fringe movement, these faiths are the most recent additions to a religious category that includes native folk and tribal traditions, and accounts for approximately 6% of believers worldwide.

Paganism may not be the religion of our grandfathers, but the new versions are rooted in the beliefs of our pre-Christian ancestors. While practice and focus vary widely among the various Pagan denominations, they share a belief in goddesses as well as gods and honor the ancestors and spirits of nature. Pagans do not accept Christian concepts such as the Fall or the Devil, and seek to live in harmony with the earth rather than to be saved from it. This search for natural balance imposes its own code of ethics, and along with traditional lore and personal relationship with the divine, replaces the role played by scripture and religious hierarchy. Most believe in an Afterlife, but Pagans are less concerned with what we believe than with how we live. Deism, a philosophy that influenced many of the Founding Fathers, is closer to Paganism than it is to Christianity.

America has always been noted for creativity, in religion as in all else. Each new faith, whether immigrant or homegrown, enriches our culture. Today, when Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques may be found in many parts of the U.S., one might wonder why the VA denied a Wiccan veteran the right to have a pentacle on his headstone for ten years, and the Army has still not hired a Pagan chaplain. Paganism does not seek to replace other religions, but Pagan perspectives can revitalize the ways in which we relate to our history, our ancestors, and especially, in this time of climate crisis, to the environment. Rather than resisting, America should welcome the Pagan contribution to our cultural diversity.

Diana L. Paxson led the ritual to invoke the Founding Fathers to protect religious freedom in Lafayette Park today. She is a Pagan Elder with experience in several traditions who has served as First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess and Steerswoman of the Troth, an international Asatru (Germanic Pagan) organization. She is also the author of 27 novels and 3 non-fiction books, including “Essential Asatru” and the forthcoming “Ravens of Avalon.”

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  • Mike H.

    Insightful and inspiring words, Diana. Thanks for sharing them! On this this Independence Day, let us all give thanks to our ancestors who fought and died for our precious freedoms… especially, the right to worship as we see fit.

  • Ian Thorpe

    I have argued elsewhere that paganism is not a religion but here I must take issue with the idea that paganism was the religion of our pre Christian ancestors.

  • lepidopteryx

    Jacob, I’ve never quite understood why Congress needed a chaplain at all. I don’t get why it’s necessary to open congressional sessions with prayers; it’s not a church service after all.As for military chaplains, I think they are quite useful and necessary for believers of any faith. After all, when one enlists in the military, there is the very real risk of injury or death. There is a big fear factor involved. I think that every soldier should have access to a chaplain of his/her faith, or at least of a faith similiar to his/hers. I realize that it’s not possible to have a representative of every sub-sect within every denomination of every faith system. But there does need to be more effort to provide chaplains for faiths outside the mainstream, as well as counselors for those who do not practice a religion, but still need an ear. I see no problem with paying them to provide these services to our emlisted men. If only chaplains of one faith are provided, and soldiers are required to attend services, THEN it’s an establishment problem.

  • Camille Klein

    Well said, Diana!Hail the Gods and Goddesses, and the Founding Fathers who put their necks on the line so that we may worship them!

  • yoyo

    Except for the bit about the relationship

  • Paganplace

    MMA, Terra! :) Happy Fourth. :) As for this, Yoyo:”but still its just another primitive response to the fear of death,Well, I’d like to think it’s a *sophisticated* response. :) I mean, I’m as afraid of *dying* as the next person, but ‘death’… Nah, that’s more or less OK. I’ve had to be OK with it, personally. I’ve done quite a bit of grief counseling: our general response to death tends to baffle atheists and Christians alike: it’s generally based in the simple fact that when someone dies, we *miss* them. We don’t fear for souls or worry about looming ‘oblivion’. Is your imagination not part of Nature? As far as distinguishing between that and the ‘supernatural,’ (not our word) some of us consider ourselves quite *good* at it. You may note we’re actually less about ooky-spooky notions of ghosts… or afterlives, than most others, when it comes to these things. :)Yes, we often believe in afterlives (more commonly a betweenlives) …but it’s not actually the central focus of belief that it is for some other religions. It’s much more about living.

  • Peter Huff

    O great, more pagan theology to interact with!:)

  • yoyo

    9/11 was a wake up call for all normal folk who don’t believe in the spooky world of religion.

  • yoyo

    Pagan Placejust caught your comment…Yeah,I see reaching up to daddy or mommy to be something we do right at the start.

  • yoyo

    Jozevz;I agree that it would be wonderful to unify the whole of the American continent; the whole of the world even.

  • Paganplace

    I think, Yoyo, there’s reason enough in that people *do* have certain experiences and needs, and that we may as well do it *well,* in a life-affirming and aware and engaged sort of way, or, as history shows, someone’ll do it *for* us to dominate and hold us back. Myth and story and symbol and ritual can enhance our lives and social bonds…. That’s a reason. We find meaning in our surroundings, and sometimes, need to let these wonderful rational minds of ours regulate through dream and song and getting the head *out of the way* a while. That, alone, is, I think, reason enough to take our spirituality in hand. That’s before you even get to Spirit. ;)

  • yoyo

    PaganPlaceI can’t disagree with you P.P.

  • Bill Lang

    Just more foolishness! Rocks, trees, and planets are only the creation. It’s like praising the Cistine Chapel but denying Michealangelo ever existed. Jesus Christ always was, paganism {which no one knows what it used to be like for sure} is the invention of someone stumbling in the dark. Turn to Jesus and see the light.

  • Dale Overman

    Thank you Diana for such a good article on paganism or heathenism. We heathens or pagans have a code of proper living as strong as any other religion. We respect nature, and honor our ancestors and all life just to name a few things.. We have many diffrent paths from Asatru and celtic druidism to wicca. Again, thank you Diana!

  • Ted Baines

    “Paganism does not seek to replace other religions”.True. But other religions become pagan.Islam is an example. It pretended nto to be pagan and Muhamamd did his best to set up Islam after Judaism and Christianity.But the amount to respect he reserved for himself has now grown into worship. Muhammad is a demi-god in Islam. Islam is a polytheistic faith with a upper god Allah, a lower but more powerful god Muhammad and the third part of the trinity is the Koran. In the Muslim world even marriages take place between women and the Koran.

  • Ja Joz

    Thank You, Mr. & mres. T E D, B A I n e s, et al;”Islam [All Abrahamic not just Islam] are POLYtheistic Religions!

  • dav

    Diana, I disagree with your idea of paganism and would not support the idea of such nonsense. However, as an American you have the right to think and do so at your leisure, that I will support. The notion that there is any God other than the Christian God has no credibility. There is no point of real reference for paganism, other than imagination of humanity.

  • Freevoice

    “Deism, a philosophy that influenced many of the Founding Fathers, is closer to Paganism than it is to Christianity.”Somethings never change….always a woman standing front and center to advocate perversion which ultimately leads to destruction…(sic)

  • Tim

    Dav’s comment on no point of reference is something that seems valid. As Christians we can point to Jesus Christ as the ultimate point of reference. And what a point of reference He is as the perfect son of God! Can some pagan out there tell me who are the famous pagan role models and contributors. Who are the founders, who are the famous philosophers, who are the scientists and leaders? The author tries to makes a point of reference by inferences to deism and Christianity. It is only her opinion and not one shared by many, if any, who are outside the pagan community. None of the American founding fathers claimed to be pagans, as far as I know. If she has some names, then name the names and stop trying to promote legitimacy through inference. Give us a point of reference.

  • Fallucination

    Although I am not a pagan, I agree with you, Diana. Paganism is just as much a religion as any other spiritual ‘ism’, and therefore deserves whatever treatment the others receive by the law. That means pagan chaplains, the use of of whatever holy texts/objects pagans wish to swear by for oaths of office or honesty and recognition of pagan holidays by employers. From my, non-religious, point of view, it is only fair.

  • Kestrel

    Thank you, Diana, for all that you have shared with us, here and elsewhere.

  • Fallucination

    Only the Christian God has any credibility? What? Huh? Why’s that? And whose version of the Chrisitan God is the right one? Anyone who makes appeals to logic that his or her own religion is the one true belief system have no credibility with me. You may argue that a Creator is writ large in the stars and that your personal religious choices are based on faith, but to say one Deity is so much more “credible” than others is laughable, at best. Perhaps personally, yes, only the Christian God is credible to you, but, surprise!, you’ve already placed your bets on Jesus; of course your pulling for him.

  • dav

    I’ll address the issue of reference. There are numerous eye witness accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Yes, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are eye witness accounts.) These written accounts are not typical of out-doing human ego writings typical of my God is better than your God. Jesus fed 5000 than 4000, no out performing one’s self there. Not only did Jesus walk on the water, Peter did also. This through his belief, again not typical. The pagan ritual of “Gods” one out does the other constantly, that point of reference is fact. One needed to have a God or Godess as a parent to perform like a God, like Peter. That is typical imagination. I only ask for a point of reference not typical of imagination or folk lore. What you (atheists, gnostics and pagans) call religion is only a title anyhow. I believe I have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I don’t adhere to rituals or chants. I (like anyone) can talk to God. That is not religion. Christians also do not want a theocracy, unlike what you people believe. We only believe that the government should have influence from our point of view as well as yours. Even, if the viewpoint is different from ours. Can you intellectually say the same? From your post above, I’d say no.

  • Julia Ergane

    Here we go again — people again saying mine is better than yours or is the TRUTH (TM). BAH! All religions are true in their separate mythical senses. I do not accept the mythical underpinnings of Christianity (it is NOT the same as Judaism). However, my religion (polytheistic Hellenismos) has many of the same virtues which are talked about in Christianity and the other religions. Why don’t we focus on this rather than on things which none of us can prove? Faith is personal and individuals have individual faith experiences (conversions). It is only the Gods who can bring that experience to a person — you can’t make it happen.

  • Paganplace

    “You didn’t mention the word imagination.Actually, I did mention imagination, in a post above: I asked… Isn’t imagination part of Nature? :)”Or,there is reality and everything else IS the imagination.The definition of ‘supernatural’ is inherently problematic, in some ways, …the definitions that rationalism place upon it are much like defining only the ‘unprovable’ as supernatural and un-repeatable, then claiming it doesn’t exist when it fails to prove itself ‘natural.’ :)”And as Carl Sagan was always saying reality itself isCarl Sagan’s a personal hero of mine from childhood. I agree, entirely. ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.’ I’ve always lived with this stuff by the idea that when things get wierd, that’s the *last* time we should be throwing reason and discernment out the window: which is a problem sometimes when people *do* experience the ‘supernatural,’ …the whole ‘seeing is believing’ mechanism of some rationalism (and book religion, for that matter,) tends to cause people to feel reason is *overwhelmed* and fall into excessive credulity simply because they experienced something a little wild. For myself, I’ve had my extraordinary proof of some things, …I don’t make the claims cause I’ve never been in the habit of having my visionary experiences notarized. :) Reality *is* awesome enough, without ‘making things up,’ ..including Newtonian things. :) We’re allowed. :)

  • Paganplace

    “Can some pagan out there tell me who are the famous pagan role models and contributors. Who are the founders, who are the famous philosophers, who are the scientists and leaders.”Well, Paganism isn’t based on founders, but for the famous philosophers, scientists, and leaders, let’s start with Thales of Miletus, and Aristotle, Plotinus, Epictetus, Amergin, Boudiccea, ..you might say Hammurabi, …how bout Hypatia? Lucretius? Cicero? All those bards and Druids?Who may be considered ‘great’ among more recent history, well, we’ll let the future decide. :)

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I am very glad to see Pagans standing up for their rights right on the White House front yard as it were. Religious rights, like all other rights, requires that we not be afraid to use them, and to use those rights especially when they are under threat. I am proud of all of those that took part in this demonstration for standing up as citizens of this great country.

  • Ryan Haber

    Ian Thorpe,Early Christianity is not paganism. If it were, it seems that all the early Christians and pagans were completely in the dark on the matter. It seems funny, then, that spotting the coincidence of the Easter holiday with Ostara, we rediscover something that they never knew.Please provide a citation of the supposed Vatican document in which the missionary St. Columbanus reported Christianity already present in the British Isles, so that I may find and read it, to discern its context.You know a lot about the Druids. Do you know why the Romans decided to suppress them in France and Britain? They weren’t Christians by centuries yet – you can’t blame that. Moreover, they were tolerant in Rome, perfectly happy to let whatever religion exist in Rome. The Romans suppressed the Druids because they burned men to death in wicker baskets as human sacrifices:“The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes. Others have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames. They consider that the oblation of such as have been taken in theft, or in robbery, or any other offence, is more acceptable to the immortal gods; but when a supply of that class is wanting, they have recourse to the oblation of even the innocent.”The frequency with which Bog Men are discovered in Ireland and Scotland, showing all the telltale signs of ritualized killing, only adds evidence to Caesar’s testimony.The Dead Sea Scrolls tell us something of the Essenes, it is true; but they do not include membership rolls, oddly enough, let alone membership roles that mention “Jesus of Nazareth whose followers claim him to be divine.”It’s nice of you to concede that some philosophical truth exists in Christianity. Christians, for our part, reciprocate the thought. Christianity doesn’t claim to have a lock on philosophical or moral truth. I am quite certain that pagans then, and neo-pagans now, have not got everything wrong. I am not even sure what you mean by literary truth, or how it applies to the present conversation. What Christianity does claim are certain historical facts, that are either true or not, and about which there is no real room for middle grounds, when the claims are examined carefully.(1) Christianity claims that a particular man who was born and lived and died at particular times in real history, claimed to be and was also the universal creator.Upon these two claims Christianity stands or falls. None of the rest of it makes a difference to Christians unless those two claims are factual – even if they are not verifiable (which is quite a different question).As to your question about Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Martha, and who they are (if not aspects of the threefold goddess), Christianity’s simple answer is and always has been just that: there were Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Martha of Bethany. Why I wonder, while you are inventing goddesses, don’t you include some of the other women of the New Testament? I mean, really, why not include Mary of Bethany (Martha’s sister) or Mary the mother of James and John, or Mary wife of Clopas? You could have a sixfold goddess that way – it sounds much more interesting.It is very sporting of you (I wonder how many Pagans, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., you represent) to offer to accommodate us if we will let you. Perhaps we let you accommodate us by relinquishing our claim to be right about this or that in an absolute way: most importantly that Jesus Christ was and is the only real God. And if we do not relinquish that claim at the heart of our lives? You say that we must, though. Will you make us, or try to? That hardly seems tolerant of you.But, pagans have tried before to make Christians relinquish that annoying claim, with its attendant challenge to change how we live our lives. We see in history how that turned out, so I for one am not too worried. Rather than be worried or intimidated, I am really more bored with facile generalizations about Christianity and other religions, and early Christianity being pagan, etc., which all seem true enough until you look at solid particulars facts.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    People, it is illogical to even bother to argue religion with each other, because no one is going to change their mind of it. My own religion does not require anyone to believe in it but me, nor do I have to spread the word, nor do I need to prove it as long as I still get results. All attempts to argue against it is just wasted breath.I am not impressed with how old or how new a religion is, and the numbers game means nothing what so ever. I care nothing if it has a holy book or does not. Holy books at best are second hand information about a deity and every person can connect directly and they have long before holy books were even invented. If your religion works for you then keep it and don’t worry abut what anyone else thinks about it. If you have no religion and that works for you, then stay that way, for your lack of belief is no threat to me or anyone else. But to argue over belief ,or lack of it, is a waste of time and will never accomplish anything at all, but just raise you blood pressure without helping you prove anything at all.

  • Ryan Haber

    The citation for the Julius Caesar quote is from his “The Gallic Wars” VI.XVI. You can find it online if you google Gallic Wars.

  • Naija

    As an historian I have to call into question the use of Caesar’s writings to represent historical accuracy. Caesar’s citations were written to a Roman government to justify the need for more money. Was he correct or was he making it up? I suspect that there is a little of both. At this time, we have no absolute documentation or evidence that the Druids burned people in wicker baskets other than Caesar and a pretty darned good movie from the 60’s. Caesar needed money, he needed to show he was fighting bad guys, so he made sure the people he had to fight looked very very bad. Nothing new about this technique to wage war. Were the Druids perfect people – not anymore than any person or people are. But scholars, academics, and professionals of history have questioned the accuracy of Caesar for many years. The picture we have of the Druids is evolving away from the baby-killer image to one that is better based in fact.Also, the Bog Mummies are another controversal subject. There is a growing number of experts who, upon examining the bodies up close, are asserting that these are people who were executed for crimes, not ritually sacrificed. Big discussions going on there.Christopher, thank you for your comments. You are very correct in that all anyone can do is get their blood pressure up trying to convince one belief to believe something else. Its the stuff wars are started for.

  • Gaby

    DAV:You wrote: ” The notion that there is any God other than the Christian God has no credibility. There is no point of real reference for paganism, other than imagination of humanity.”And what exactly would the “real point of reference” be for the Christian god? Surely, you are not speaking of the Bible? That book is nothing but the imagination of some long-dead humans, who interspersed it now and then with a little history.I definitely would not call that a “real point of reference”!

  • lepidopteryx

    Ryan:

  • Bill L

    For you who want proof, look at the miracles performed in Jesus’ name. I’m not talking about Benny Hinn or Oral Roberts, but credible events. There are many unexplained healings after calling upon Jesus that have been researched and verified to have occured by medical doctors with no religious connections. Read about a man named Padre Pio and what he achieved in Jesus’ name {one young girl gained eye sight even though she had no pupils}. Read about the reports of events that occured in Fatima, Portugal. It was witnessed by tens of thousands and reported by media and professional people who were hostile to the Church. Read about the Tilma at Guadalupe and how it defies science.

  • Ben

    Bill Lang writes that paganism is “like praising the Cistine [sic] Chapel but denying Michealangelo ever existed.” I would respond that monotheism is like praising the Sistine Chapel, the painting _Guernica_, the statue _The Thinker_, the ballet _Swan Lake_, the book _Moby Dick_, King Tut’s golden mask, and the album _Appetite for Destruction_ — and then asserting that, because they are all great creative works, they all must have been created by one single artist, and all other artists are delusions and frauds.

  • Amy

    OK, Bill and Dav and any of the other Christians on here commenting, let’s just leave it at this: I really and truly do not CARE who or what you worship. I don’t. It’s irrelevent to my life. Now, I’m asking the same courtesy of you. If you don’t like what I believe (and, yes, children, I AM a Pagan. A DEEPLY religious one.), then, by all means, DON’T PRACTICE IT. If you don’t like it, you can’t have any. Simple, eh? I’ve been there, done that with Christianity and it simply wasn’t my cup of tea. And, just so you know: No, I’m not worried about the state of my soul. It’s plugging along nice, has for 4 decades, thanks. No, I don’t worry about where I go when I die. Too much stuff happening in the here and now to worry about what happens when my body’s had enough. Want to know what I DO worry about? Theocrats wanting to dictate how I live my life in the United States of America, some 300 years after my ancestors came here seeking, you guessed it, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM! Freedom of religion means ALL religions. It can also mean freedom FROM religion. Now, don’t go spouting that there’s no plans from the Tighty Righties to turn this fine nation into a Christian version of a Sharia Law nation. YOU know they are, I know they are, don’t insult my intelligence like that. Besides, I find humor in the idea that ALL the Gods, yours, mine, the kid down the block’s, are just sitting back, drinking a beer and laughing at us. Un-bunch your BVD’s, kids, and have some fun in life. Life is too short to be wearing tight underwear. Blessings on you all.

  • Ryan Haber

    I have a question, that perhaps a pagan can answer for me.What, in your understanding, is a god? Please avoid recourse to the word ‘divine’ and synonyms, because it will only create a circular definition. I have never heard a pagan understanding of the term ‘god’ and would like to, if someone cares to supply one.Thanks!

  • Ryan Haber

    Naija, as an historian you are certainly aware then, that Caesar’s presumed motives bear upon the trustworthiness of his account, but not upon its factuality. Either the events he described happened, or not; in the way he described, or in some other way. His motives bear upon his account, but not upon the events.You are also doubtless aware that his account, though the most famous, is hardly solitary. Even the Celtic folklegends allude to human sacrifices.

  • Bill L

    Amy, I do pity you and feel sad for you because I do care what happens to you! I enjoy life to the hilt and hope that you can enjoy eternity to the hilt! Enjoyment doesn’t mean license.

  • Jasmine Rylander

    Bill L, I mean no disrespect, but do you understand just how condescending and arrogant you sound? Seriously, you sound like a self-righteous jerk. I don’t presume to speak for Amy, but I’ve had other self-professed Christians express similar sentiments to me, and my response is always this: keep your pity and your smug so-called “concern” for me.My relationship with my Gods is no one’s business but my own. I am perfectly content, and rejoice in the fact that with each life, I come closer to reunion with the universal Source. I enjoy life, in all its joys and tragedies, and when the time comes for me to pass from this life, I look forward to dancing with my Lady amongst the stars until it’s time to come back to Terra Mater for the next lesson.

  • AcidQueen

    Dear Christofascists exhorting all of us to repent and follow your desert thunder god:I was once a “christian” just like you. But I wised up and left because I couldn’t hang with: 1) the hypocrisy inherent in the idea of “love the sinner and hate the sin”.2) the idea that forgiveness will negate all misdeeds (i.e. avoiding the long-reaching consequences of your actions)3) the hypocrisy inherent in ignoring most of the law while obeying only those parts that suit your personal prejudices.Shall I go on? No?

  • Ian Corrigan

    Ryan Haber asks:A fine question.Most Pagans live in a theology in which the natural world is, itself, a clear and true reflection of the spiritual world – we don’t hold the natural world to be ‘fallen’.In the natural world there are many beings, each after its own kind. Humans enter into various relationships with those beings – some we become intimate with, through ‘domestication’ or because we hunt them, or, in days gone by, even because they hunted us. Other natural things just go their own way, with little interaction with humans.It is so in the spiritual realm as well, I think. There are all sorts of spiritual beings, some more interested in being in relationship with humans, some not. When we enter relationship with spiritual beings, it’s commonly called ‘worship’ (from english roots meaning ‘display of respect’).The english word ‘god’ derives from roots meaning ‘that to which we sacrifice’ – i.e. that which we worship. In the broadest sense, any being that responds to honest worship with blessings can be considered a ‘god’. Since Pagan philosophy tends to see spiritual power as present in all natural manifestation, there isn’t really anything that doesn’t participate in the divine.More narrowly, ‘the gods’ are usually considered the eldest and wisest, mightiest and loveliest of the many clans of spiritual beings. They are generally among the earliest beings, though they may have gained their rulership by defeating older beings. Usually ‘the gods’ are a specific family or two, kin and offspring of an elder deity.The sort of mythic description I use above is never ‘taken literally’. Most of us wouldn’t think one can say many literal things about the spiritual world, which is symbolic and metaphorical by its nature. Please understand that Paganism does not require an agreed-on answer as to the nature of the gods. We have some names for them, and when we worship them we gain good blessings. Thus we do the work of our spiritual path, and leave discussions of what the gods ‘really’ are for late-night fun-talk :).After all, if we were to ask a biologist, an ethicist and a playwright what a human being ‘really is’ we’d have a long discussion ahead of us.

  • Christopher W. Chase

    Ryan asked: “What, in your understanding, is a god? Please avoid recourse to the word ‘divine’ and synonyms, because it will only create a circular definition. I have never heard a pagan understanding of the term ‘god’ and would like to, if someone cares to supply one.”===Christopher responds:Mr. Corrigan, himself well versed in Pagan theologies, had pretty much hit the nail on the head. In most of the world’s indigenous traditions, such as Shinto, the Gods are experienced as “Sacred Persons.” That is to say, those who present themselves to their devotees in the ways they choose to do so. The Earth Mother, for many Pagans, presents herself in realms of Sea, Sky and Air, with awesome power. Others, like ecotheologian Anne Primavesi (“Sacred Gaia”) experience her differently, because she manifests differently to them. Sacred presences are noted in Places that emanate Power, as understood by Shintoists and the Navajo. Sometimes these are personal kinship to an ethnic people, or sometimes a distant cultural progenitor.The wisdom, power and love of the Gods are accessible to worshippers through reciprocal covenants, usually ritually-based and sacrificially-based. The nature of Sacred Persons has been explored in books by theologians John Michael Greer (“A World Full of Gods” and Jordan Paper (“The Deities Are Many.”) Some Goddess worshippers and theologians, such as Carol P. Christ, have described the Goddess as an impersonal yet existential “infinite universal grounding of love.” There are many theologies in different religious traditions, certainly no less in Pagan religions than Abrahamic or Dharmic religions.

  • Ryan Haber

    Mr. Corrigan, thank you first of all for your thoughtful answer. I do not believe that the natural world is fallen – at least not in the first place. In the first place, I think that the spiritual world is fallen, and that we humans (who participate in both sorts of reality) drag the natural world down with us. I am not sure what you take fallen to mean, or what you take Christians to mean by it. For me, fallen *DOES NOT* mean worthless, bad, untouchable, yucky, impure, unclean, wicked, or wrecked. Fallen simply means something like broken. And fallen I am, fallen we are, fallen the world is. I can only offer two pieces of evidence for this conclusion, evidences with which you are probably already acquainted.The first evidence is myself. I am broken, as it were, and I feel it in my own being. I want to be kind to my father, but it is a strain on every nerve to do what I also sense ought to come naturally. I want to get up on time, but hit the snooze bar and drag instead. My body gets frailer with the passage of time and I cannot run like I used to – and probably never will.The second evidence is the newspaper. In fact, any and every newspaper will suffice for the point. I just can’t imagine reading the headlines of WP.com, “Iraqi Hamlet: A Funeral Service in Every House,” and NOT thinking that something is terribly wrong in the world. And headlines like, “Increasing Rates of Foreclosure in Atlanta,” and “Little Girl Shot, and a Crowd that Didn’t See,” (from NYtimes.com) are NOT new. From our earliest collective memories, we have been driving each other off land, ignoring violence while thanking heaven that it wasn’t us, and weeping over children dead before their parents, murdered by strangers.If the world ISN’T fallen, I don’t know what it is. But that doesn’t mean that the world is all bad. It’s just broken, like a nice tea set with some cracks and chips in the china. And it is a very beautiful world, one worth fixing up, just like I’d try to do SOMETHING with a damaged piece of Waterford rather than just throwing it away. I try to do SOMETHING with used milk jugs, rather than just throw them away, let alone with the whole world! But that is not to deny that the thing is damaged.Enough about fallenness. It seems to have been a trivial part of your post anyway. You end your post with a more interesting point. Asking different sorts of people what a human being “really is” seems to me not only to be a long discussion, perhaps, but also certainly a very important one. That question is at the heart of all the current ethical debates I can think of. Questions from torturing terror suspects to abortion-rights all hinge on the question “What is a human?”So it is with the question “What is a god?” To synthesize your thoughts, please forgive and correct me if I overstep them, you indicate that a god is one of the more excellent (spiritual) beings that responds to honest worship. That seems like a good definition as a basis for exploration. Because gods have personalities (in their own way, as we have in our own way) mightn’t gods accept and respond to worship for their own purposes? More to the point, might there be a god or gods that seek only to control or manipulate humans, or who are hostile to us as individuals or as members of the human race? It’s an important question, you probably see immediately, because I wouldn’t like to have much to do with such beings – the less the better. If there are such gods, how are we to distinguish them from gods who are more favorably disposed toward us? If there aren’t such gods, how can one be so sure?I am not really trying to poke around too much, Mr. Corrigan, but it does seem that these questions are more weighty than late-night fun-talk. Have you or any of your friends come across an approach or understanding that helps answer such questions? This intrigues me.

  • Ryan Haber

    Dear Acidqueen,Distinguishing between a person and their acts is very important. Otherwise, once a person steals, he must always be thought of as a thief, one who lies must never again be trusted, and so on. Keeping clear the distinction between a person and their acts is very important because it allows us to recognize someone’s reformability. If my son lies to me, he is not essentially a liar – he is my son, and I love him whether I catch him lying or not. After a period of habitual truth-telling again, he will have grown in trustworthiness and demonstrated as much. Then there will be no reason to doubt him again. There isn’t hypocrisy inherent in this distinction, in fact, I am grateful for it, since I have lied, cheated, stolen, and worse in my lifetime. I am very, very grateful that people – even people who know those things about me – do not look at me as a liar, a cheat, or a thief.Most people feel that there are things they “would never do.” Of course, these particular misdeeds are ones that aren’t particularly appealing to them in the first place. They might say, “Oh, what that man did! Despicable! I would never do…” and they might mean anything from (trivially) forgetting their wedding anniversary to (a vastly more serious offense) molesting the neighbor’s child. These “I-would-never”s are usually where people become hypocritical, in my experience. So a man that “would never” beat his mother, or do cocaine, or have sex with another man might very complacently look down on those as unspeakable or unpardonable.Among such people, and especially about those things to which they do not feel tempted, the trite mantra “love the sinner and hate the sin,” often indeed turns into a thin rouse to gloss over very unloving treatment toward other people. Often times, very cold, angry, or hateful responses directed against PEOPLE are supposedly justified by that dictum. In reality, such people probably neither love the sinner, the person, nor hate the sin, the misdeed. The only reason I can see to hate an action, to want it undone, to wish it had never happened, to seek to prevent its recurrence, is because the act has bad effects on people, especially on people we love, and most especially on the people most injured by those deeds. If I hate cannibalism, it is because I love the people who are cannibalized, and quite possibly (hopefully) because I see the negative effects it has even on the cannibals (whom I also hopefully at least try to care about).Forgiveness doesn’t negate misdeeds. Not at all. A cannibalized person is still quite digested even if his mother has forgiven the cannibal. Undoing a misdeed is not the goal of forgiveness. The purpose of forgiveness is letting go of the injury we have received – not “forgetting” it (if that’s even possible), not pretending the injury never happened. Forgiveness might be thought of as simply ‘giving’ it up. Letting go of it. Yielding our natural right to hold onto what was done to us. Simply, it is saying to ourselves (and sometimes to the one who injured us), “You hurt me, and it really hurts, and I’m Ok with that. I don’t wish any revenge upon you.” The benefit of giving forgiveness is that the injury stops hurting us any further, and begins to heal. It’s still there, though, so the decision to forgive must be renewed periodically, sometimes even frequently. The problem with forgiveness is that it’s pretty darn hard. I have a very hard time letting go of minor grievances like the failure to return a DVD that I lent a friend. Bigger grievances like someone who fired me unjustly or humiliated me publicly – those I just was not able to forgive on my own. I needed help to do so. But I know that forgiveness brings peace and healing to the forgiver because I don’t get all agitated when those topics come up again. Another beautiful aspect of forgiveness that I recently experienced when forgiven by a friend whom I abandoned during a difficult time of his life: our friendship is rebuilding, and is sturdier than it was before. Before we were drinking pals of sorts – now we know more about each other’s hearts and are involved in each other’s lives in more meaningful ways.As a Christian, I try very hard to ignore the moral laws. They are important, but I know them: “thou shall not kill,” etc. But what a miserable life, to walk around all the time, on guard against myself, worrying that I might have stepped on a crack or something. Plus, in the past, I have noticed that I was particularly good at following some laws, and (without noticing my natural ineptitude at following others) I have then gotten onto a high horse and beaten others with my self-assured self-righteousness. That’s not good. Now, as a Christian, I just try to look out for other people, to care for them. The laws and rules teach me what’s good and what’s bad, and that’s important to know. But my purpose has to be to build others up, not to tear them down. When I blow it (I don’t lie much anymore, but I forget my sisters’ birthdays sometimes, so to speak, among other things), out of concern for the person I’ve harmed, I apologize and try to grow into a better person. If someone blows it and hurts me, especially about a little thing, out of concern for them I try not to even let on that I’ve been hurt – I know it is hard to be good because I have been trying for a while and only making some progress here and there, and I don’t want to discourage someone, or to cut off a friendship, over a little thing. If someone hurts me in a big way, and they seem willing to listen, I explain how what they’ve done hurt me, and I make a decision to keep trying to forgive them, so we can both get on with our lives.Acidqueen, you sound very unhappy, bitter, even acidic. I hope it’s only when Christians or Christianity come up (although, in the US, that is pretty darn often!). Anyway, if you ever want to correspond in a more private manner, feel free to email me: withouthavingseen is my ID, at gmail.com. (I think an email address written as such blocks the post.)

  • Titus

    Doesn’t it just eat you up that a Wiccan just won the Lottery after praying to win?ROTFLMAO!!!!!!!!!!