Today I want to take a break from politics. A number of things going on in America these days, from the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case to the the Supreme Court's attack on the Voting Rights Act to banks and financial institutions only being punished with fines and fees and settlements even though they have wrecked the lives of millions and are continuing to do so... All of this is just too depressing for me to find words to respond with just now. I think America is going so far right and so far wrong that I am starting to wonder if I will even see it turn around in my lifetime,or just get worse and worse.... ever more cruel and unequal. And no, technology alone won't fix it.... If you believe that, you have been watching too many advertisements from the tech companies. If you persist in this belief, at least you will make THEM happy.
Let us speak instead of the spiritual and the mystical, in Paganism and beyond. Putting aside the various pejorative and negative meanings of the term "Pagan" stretching far back into history, for those who see Paganism in a positive light, Pagan/ism is generally defined as having to do with nature worship and polytheism. Let me admit something that some readers may find strange or disconcerting: I have a bit of a problem with polytheism.
This is something I have been thinking about for a long time. My problem is, in a sense, a variation on the classical philosophical dilemma of "The One and the Many." When Pagans respect or worship nature and also respect or worship multiple gods and goddesses, are we talking about ONE thing, nature, with multiple manifestations personified as gods and goddesses, or is nature one thing, and the gods and goddesses separate things and beings? How do these things all relate and connect together? Is nature the fundamental thing, the foundation of all existence, and the gods something on top of that or secondary to that?
I cannot accept the proposition that the gods are real and separate, and that they are the highest reality. There has to be something that connects us all together, a common ground to all that exists. The monotheists call this common ground "God," but we Pagans prefer to have multiple gods and goddesses. I like the multiplicity of Paganism and polytheism for representing a diverse, many-faceted existence in a dramatic, relatable, personified manner, but I am still left scratching my head, and wondering, what is the underlying linkage connecting everything, the foundation? In this respect I like the idea of God, but I don't feel any need for a Santa Claus figure to watch over me and dispense rewards and punishments. I like a more impersonal idea of God, closer perhaps to the Ein-Sof of the Kabbalah, the Tao of Taoism, the Brahman principle of Hinduism or the Sunyatta Void of Buddhism, or the god beyond form and image and word in Islam and Judaism. This is definitely part of my personal spiritual kit.
Where the multiple divine beings of Pagan polytheism become important to me is as ways of representing human psychology, our needs, our emotions, our experiences, our instincts and drives. A god of anger and destruction? I feel it. A god of wisdom and knowledge? I seek it.A god who plays tricks and is untrustworthy? I know that god! A goddess who represents the peace or the wildness in nature? I feel it. The dark god or goddess of death and nothingness? I fear it. A goddess of love and desire? I WANT to feel Her! However, I cannot take any of these gods literally as actual beings up and about in the world who I might bump into on the street or in the forest. I see them in a more psychological sense, as something like Jungian archetypes. Enormously meaningful as dimensions of life, powerfully real as expressions of psychology, but literally, physically real? No....not for me.
For me, I have to combine the multiplicity of polytheism, as a means of relating to and respecting the many aspects of human and natural existence, with the philosophical grounding of monotheism or monism, to provide a foundation and a connection between all the diverse elements of our world. I also believe that the essence of spirituality is to seek both encounter with deeper dimensions of life--a polytheistic impulse--as well as some kind of unity and integration--the monistic or monotheistic impulse. If polytheism just means everything scattered and separate forever, a glorious, roiling disunity, I don't want it. I seek something further: some kind of bringing together, binding together, connecting together, integration and unity at a higher level. However, I would never accept the suppression of many-ness and diversity that some monotheistic religions tend towards. I am therefore seeking a form of religion or spirituality that both acknowledges diversity and many-ness and also leads to some kind of integration and unity. I know this is not for everyone, but I wanted to express this point of view.
I do think that Pagan traditions contain glimpses of what I am talking about, and I will discuss this in future. For now, I would be interested to know if others have reflected on the issues I have raised, and what their thoughts are.