School Allowed Pagan Essay
I. Paganism and Polytheism
II. Taoism: Happiness through Negative Thinking
IV. Romano-Hellenic Paganism: a Choice for the Universal
V. Acquaintanceship with the Gods
VI. Paganism and Freedom of Choice
VII. Towards a Pagan Quakerism
VIII,. Universalism and Paganism
IX. Pagan Philosophy – the Stoic Model for Today
X. The Discernment of Spirits
I. Paganism and Polytheism
Over the past hundred years or so we have witnessed a religious phenomenon in the West of some significance. It is the re-emergence of Paganism or Neo-Paganism as a spiritual path.
By "Paganism" or "Neo-Paganism" we mean a movement to reconstruct or take as a religious starting point the traditional religions of Europe before the imposition of the Christian religious monopoly. This may take the form of Celtic, Nordic, Slavic or Graeco-Roman traditions, as well as some which are eclectic. The most conspicuous of these movements, the Wiccans, have recreated a "witchcraft" usually Celtic, but also eclectic.
Other than the fact that all of these are conspicuously and intentionally Non-Christian – a long-delayed backlash to the physical and moral violence that established and upheld the Christian monopoly – the most interesting and significant feature of these movements is that they are polytheistic.
Now, polytheism is the normal state of mankind. Hinduism and Popular Taoism, for example, have, in the high cultures of India and China respectively, flourished for millennia, and polytheism is also prevalent in African and Amerindian traditions. The re-emergence of Paganism in the West is simply a reversion to Normal Human Religion.
Undeniably, the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord Your God, the Lord is One!" is stirring, and represents in some sense a great spiritual insight. However, it certainly remains to be proved that it is one which others should wish to follow. In the Graeco-Roman tradition in which Judaism and Christianity were for long active, it was always understood that there was one underlying Deity/Divinity/Godhead, and Pythagoreans, Platonists and Stoics, among others, vied to propose systems of theology in which the One, the Logos, the Cosmic Zeus, was to be harmonised with the obviously real existence of many gods and goddesses.
The Judeo-Christian desire to deny the existence of other gods or to consider them (at worst) real but only as evil daemons, therefore seems gratuitous. Philosophers and monistic mystics can prove the existence of and unite themselves subjectively with the Absolute. It has reality and uniqueness, and that is not to be questioned. If one seeks for a personal deity, however, the insistence that there is only one is remarkably arrogant, inasmuch as it flies in the face of the human experience. Normal polytheists over the millennia have experienced relationships with many specific deific personalities. The evidence for their reality is comparable to that available to that of the monotheists – accounts of appearances, visions, inspirations, solace, answers to prayers, and miracles.
A polytheist need not be surprised if a supreme Father God similar to Iuppiter-Zeus actually exists and consorts with monotheists. The need for interpretation then arises – is this a renegade deity, or is it perhaps a persistent misinterpretation on the part of the followers of some manifestation of Iuppiter-Zeus which accounts for the untoward denial that other gods exist? In either case it would be arrogant, and the intolerance which such a claim furthers has been socially and historically noxious.
In the case of Judaism the insistence on one sole God, although annoying to Jews thundered at by prophets for worshipping the Ba’als "on the high places" normally, from an outside point of view simply served to preserve the identity of the Jewish people through the possession of a unique religion. In the case of Christianity and Islam, however, the notion that only worship of their favourite deity is right led to persecutions of Pagans worse than what Pagans had ever done to them, and to crusades and jihads – often enough against other monotheists –, witchcraft persecutions through evidence obtained under torture, prolonged and savage religious wars in Europe, and imperialistic outbursts that spread Islamic and European civilisation over vast parts of the world through force of arms.
The energy unleashed through the fanatical insistence on one God and one Right Way is awe inspiring, but hardly admirable. In general, Pagans war against and persecute others very little for religious reasons. Christians were persecuted because of their own intolerant and anti-social acts, such as refusing to participate in the cult of the Emperor’s Genius, which was simply the spiritual symbol of the civil unity of the civilised Mediterranean-European world. Jews were granted wide exemptions from such things, and Pythagoreans and Orphics had abstained from many civic sacrifices from a principled rejection of their bloody nature, but the Christians were unusually obnoxious towards others’ religions, as well as secretive, and this excess led to the opprobrium in which they were held. Most of the time, in any case, the Christians in Pagan Rome were in fact not particularly persecuted. When the Christians gained the dominant power in the state, however, they closed the institutions of learning of Pagan philosophy which had advanced Western intellectual culture for centuries, and they actively forbade the normal religious practices of their forefathers to those who wished to remain faithful to them. Even before this, Christian mobs were known for their depredations of Pagan holy places and their campaigns of terrorism against Pagans, often encouraged by Christian bishops.
The sociopathy of these religious manifestations is clear. From a religious point of view too, a Pagan must judge that worshipping only one deity and denying the validity of others is spiritually unbalanced. In the first place, worship of only a male deity neglects the feminine aspect of reality. A monotheistic theologian waxing philosophic may assert that actually the deity has no sex or gender, but such a claim notwithstanding, the personal deity he worships most emphatically does. It is that unremittingly patriarchal archetype and image which sinks into the subconscious to those roots from which a person’s religious life spring.
There is a Pagan witticism that monotheism is the first step towards atheism. In this there is much truth. Normally a deity works in a pantheon, and the worshipper is able to experience Deity in different personal forms. Since we are many and diverse as persons, and everyday reality is made up of diverse realms of experience, having a diversity of approaches to the Divine is obviously advantageous.
If an individual is able to find his own divine patrons and worship the Divine under those forms which call forth from him or her as an individual the optimum religious response, those which truly speak to one’s heart, that is surely better than to foist a "one-size-fits-all" deity on everyone, thereby alienating those for whom such an approach does not call forth a natural response. Christianity can offer a strong Father God on the model of Iuppiter-Zeus, and a suffering death-and-resurrection deity like Dionysos, Persephone, Adonis or Attis. But what of the realms of the spirit represented by (just in the Hellenic tradition) Apollo, Athene, Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite or Hephaistos, not to mention the religion of the Lares, Penates, Genius Loci, and the personal Iuno and Genius of the family altar (in the Roman tradition), and in the wilds, of Pan, satyrs, dryads, and nymphs? By these standards Christianity is impovershed, and Islam more so.
Monotheistic religions often emphasise the virtue of Love, which makes them popular, as love is palpably a real good and real god, but in their conduct their fierce desire to deny others freedom of religion and conscience and spread their own forms of monotheistic exclusivism has made them persistently savage to others. (We can hardly consider the "tolerance" of Islam real which conquers others with religiously inspired armies and then places a special tax on unbelievers and does not permit Moslems to convert away from Islam to these other faiths if they wish.) Paganism too favours treating others justly, honestly and with humanity, and Pagans do not seem to do so less than monotheists. On the other hand, Pagans also have a strong tradition of cultivating a broad range of virtues which conduce towards the perfection of the whole person, not so much as an isolated religious duty, but as the natural conduct of cultured and civilised human beings. For Paganism is not only the cultivation of the Gods, but of humanism. It is pluralistic and open in attitude.
The polytheism of modern Paganism in the West should put the West increasingly into a position able to understand the other religious cultures of the world with a freedom from arrogance. Despite the wrongs inflicted on Pagans by monotheists, it becomes Pagans to continue to display their traditional tolerance, while remaining true to their more natural and complete religious system. Interfaith dialogue is always desirable, and insofar as monotheists recognise the validity of Pagan religious experience, they should be able to overcome the extremism of the monotheistic position, and perhaps attain to a henotheistic outlook in which they may prefer to worship only their deity, but refrain from casting doubt upon their neighbour’s deities or those deities’ sanctity and goodness.
II. Taoism: Happiness through Negative Thinking
Taoism takes delight in being a paradoxical religion. Where many other traditions might express themselves through a positive expression, in one sense or another, Taoism prefers to use a negative one. Partly it does this to lead us to new ways of thinking, and partly for its characteristic of humorous self-deprecation.
Taoists seek happiness in life, and think that it is our natural human state if we simply eliminate the things by which social convention has corrupted our natural simplicity. Thus, happiness is found through the jettisoning of the baggage, not through acquisition of something new or special – arguably a negative viewpoint from some point of view.
Happiness is a fundamentally tranquil state, so anything which excites is a perturbance of the equilibrium of happiness. Many things in the environment can perturb us, particularly if we acquire undue emotional attachment to them. Making of ourself a great persona, famous, powerful, with an agenda to be imposed on the world is one of the worst possible approaches to happiness. A Taoist desires to be obscure and to refrain from imposing himself on the world. Thus he is freed from dependence on things which he cannot guarantee, and he is rarely compelled to fight for personal reasons. Other things can take care of themselves. This is one aspect of wu-wei, Inaction.
On the other hand, to suppose that one must adapt to the pressures of others is equally bad. The Taoist seeks to hold to the Uncarved Block, his own nature, and judge all things thereby insofar as they pertain to him. His life must be his own, and he must not let others force their (usually deluded) preoccupations and perceptions of reality on him. The best way of accomplishing this is Ignorance. A Taoist strives to ignore and so to be ignorant of things unhelpful to his path. By denying consciousness and consideration to untoward things he denies them effective reality, and thus denies them the power to corrupt him.
To be ignorant of greed, for example, is not to be greedy. And this is most important. There is a norm of things that are "naturally" available in our environment, and if we want much more, we will have to exert more effort and perhaps initiate conflict with others in our desire to obtain them. A Taoist, therefore, wants to content himself with what is easily available, and really of interest to him in his path. If it is easier to eliminate the desire than obtain the object, the Taoist will usually prefer to eliminate the desire rather than to extend himself unduely to obtain the object.
A Taoist desires to be leisurely and to appreciate the simple pleasures of life; fast cars, cell phones, and pagers are rarely part of his world. Efficiency is sometimes admired, but only when it is elegant and effortless, not when it is forced out of overstressed nerves or at the expense of the charm of life. If a tram is about to pull out, the first reaction of a Taoist is to move more slowly and catch the next one in an hour or two; he is patient, and considers proper timing to be best attained by waiting.
The Taoist does not wish to have fixed opinions, things to grumble about, or a side he must take. He is not interested in the language and capital of the territory he abides in, and still less in its football team. He does not wish to be a partisan, fan, nationalist or party member in general. Much less does he want to compete about anything.
"Fuss" is an excellent English word to express what a Taoist most wishes to avoid: nervous, busy, troublous activity. He prefers to be inert, stolid, unconscious, neutral, inactive, and at peace with the world. By ignoring the inconvenient and disagreeable things of life he finds that most of them go away or at least cease to perturb.
A Taoist has returned to the realm of the Eternal and Natural; he therefore understands that rules, laws and social conventions are not applicable to him. If he seems from time to time to conform to any from conditional prudence, whim, or perception of some accidental real value in them, that does not bespeak any conviction or sense of respect or obligation. A Taoist is the Tao, the Touchstone of Reality, and nothing beyond can define him meaningfully.
Intellectual endeavour can be highly destructive to a happy life, except if it be engaged in playfully. The intellect is useful if it shows the way to detachment from falsehood, prejudice and trivia, but all too often it tends to nitpick and be used as a tool of superiority over others, concerned with who is right, who is wrong, and whom to blame. The Taoist is only concerned (if necessary) with what is right, and he wishes to blame no one. The Taoist prefers to cultivate a state of drugless innebriation in which his mind is thrown out of focus, ignores trivial details, refrains from distinctions, and agreeably perceives the oneness of all things in an atmosphere of delightful mental haze. The perfection of this is hun-tun – a state of empty, chaotic confusion, which is the mystic union with the Tao.
Then, too, as Emerson said so Taoistically, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…". A Taoist accordingly does not try to prove that he is consistent, and even acts inconsistently from time to time to lift himself out of the categories in which others might wish to place him. He does not wish to "act consistently like a Taoist", but to be a Taoist, which is ultimately something mysterious and beyond the power of names to define.
A Taoist always keeps in mind that "The greatest perfection is like imperfection". Perfection in a limited human sense is rare and, so, difficult to obtain, if not non-existent. It is also (except for the perfection of imperfection) a prejudiced human construct. The Taoist therefore eschews its pursuit and mistrusts it if he seems to come upon it. Imperfection, asymmetry and unfinishedness are what give charm to life, and that is usually the way life wants to be.
Taoism sees that life is not a problem unless one is led to make it one. Like water, he seeks the lowest places, the easiest way back to the Sea. On the way he will enjoy the simple things of life, whether eating, sleeping, worshipping the gods, or doing a modicum of useful labour. Otherwise he will enjoy Nature, play, and cultivate himself.
A life of inaction, muddle-headedness, indefiniteness, poverty, powerlessness, purposelessness, and uninvolvement surely sounds negative enough. How does it result in happiness? As noted in the beginning, it works because human beings are naturally happy. Unhappiness is mostly (though not entirely) due to a greed for more good or exciting things than the environment naturally tends to produce. This greed seduces the common man into modifying the environment through a great deal of conflict and labour taxing to the spirit. The environment, following the Tao, tends to revert to the mean, thus forcing the greedy to continue to exhaust themselves and turn their attention to the struggle instead of enjoying the common goods of life. Further, these excesses of putative goods in the end do not have the value they seemed to have in the beginning. Thus does greed damage human happiness.
The Taoist, sensitive in avoiding greed and grateful for free goods, is fundamentally content. Not being a well-defined being in opposition to an exploitable world, he or she merges in identity with the Tao, which is absolute and thus ultimately secure. The Taoist does not possess a few dozen homes and cars, but possesses the universe, because he or she is the universe. What more could anyone want?
Aleister Crowley, a sometimes somewhat loveable rogue of dubious character but considerable insight, proposed to the world a system of thought and values called "Thelema", from the Greek word (qšlhma) meaning "will". The system was based on the Book of the Law, purportedly dictated by a spirit and including various unsavoury things such as a condemnation of compassion, contempt for the poor, and praise for bloody sacrifices and the insects feeding on them. That such a source should serve as an inspiration for a good number of decent and reasonably intelligent people might be taken as indicative that there was some value in the Thelema notion, as there is certainly much to be said against some aspects of it. Is there?
In fact, there is. Religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism urge us to discover and return to our True Nature. Thelema asks us to find our True Will, and then to do it. There is a parallelism here, and apparently a way to come to our True Nature, which may seem difficult to discover, by means of analyzing our True Will, which is somewhat better defined, and also carries its own indications of what to do after finding it.
"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" is the basic summation of Thelema. This does not mean to do what one wishes on a whim, but refers to a deeper Will which must be explored. We may feel a transitory will for a bar of chocolate, but when we consider what this will do to our figure and health, we may realise that we do not really want the chocolate after all. Some people, of course, may eat the chocolate nevertheless, and this implies that there may be a less than perfect obedience to one’s True Will. We have identified with a Transient Will, and the result is that we are diminished in the integrity and wholeness of our self.
This is a common problem in many moral systems. In Thelema the emphasis should be on emphasising one’s True Will and identifying with it rather than condemning oneself for deviating from it imprudently. By realising that it is really the only true will, and that it is our will, we are enabled to progressively live according to it at each point in time of our lives. The desire for the chocolate is acknowledged (sensual pleasure is not condemned in Thelema), the desire to avoid its bad effects is acknowledged, the motivations for each are clearly presented to the mind, and the True Will is determined and acted upon because of the throughness of the understanding of our True Will and the intentness of our concentration upon its reality. By being in our minds insistently and constantly as a spiritual discipline, it attains a force to impose itself naturally at all times.
The True Will, of course, involves more that the above victory for prudence. It is also concerned with the focus and direction of one’s whole life, with one’s vocation and personal identity. The True Will calls us upward from simply somehow existing and muddling through life to considerations of how to assemble our life into a coherent work of art directed at values which are dear in and of themselves to our True Will, values which give true meaning to living a human life. Deep intellectual and intuitive analysis is necessary to identify them and discern one’s true will at any point in one’s life, and thoroughly identify oneself with it and follow out its implications.
People rarely desire anything truly evil for themselves under such close and honest personal scrutiny. If, however, they seem to want something evil or perverse, it is important not to simply dismiss the desire, but to accept it, understand it, and only then transcend it.
Ultimately, of course, the True Will is supra-personal, and reflects the "desires" of God-or-Nature as applicable to each of us as a manifestation thereof. Thus, by according ourselves with our inmost and highest, most central and profound desires we are made to realise our oneness with the One and the All. Keeping our own body and personae alive then seems relatively trivial, and we assume our responsibility for the great tasks of the world.
There is great attractiveness in this method of spiritual culture. It does not ask us to give up pleasures or follow externally codified laws. It rather asks us simply to find and do what we really wish. In so doing we first make of ourself one whole conscious being, a process of integration we might call holosis. By integrating our Will both in terms of making it consistent within itself and by making it constant over time we become more fully ourselves, without partially detached elements causing internal conflicts, and ready to deal with life as a unified whole.
Making the Will consistent within itself means that we must consider each of our desires and determine why they find certain things attractive from a subjective point of view. We must then determine how they interact, for it is principally by finding incongruities and conflicts that we discover the True Will behind them. To take the simple chocolate example, we may discover that we crave something sweet because we need energy or blood-sugar, we simply like sweetness or the specific taste of chocolate, we desire the special constitutent of chocolate that compenses for a perceived lack of love, or we may simply be hungry with no other convenient food around. On the other hand, we may desire to avoid the chocolate because we wish to keep a bodily weight conducive to health, we wish to preserve our teeth from decay-causing sugar, we wish our body to be sexually attractive, or we wish to be in shape for some vigorous hiking or mountain climbing.
Bringing these conflicting desires together in conjunction with their motivations – some perception of a prima facie good – and with the objective facts of what causes would entail what effects and to what degree, the mind is enabled to come to a coherent and integral point of view. Very likely in this case some degree of chocolate eating will be permitted, since a small quantity under the right conditions would give pleasure or energy without imperilling other goods in life. Or it may even be that one will realise that he or she has no substantive motivation for being thin or in shape to tackle mountains, but that these are unrealistic self-expectations given one’s basic inclinations or bodily and metabolic type. Then rather more enjoyment of the chocolate might turn out to be one’s True Will.
True Will must always conform to reality. One cannot deny to oneself that extensive chocolate eating can potentially damage health, beauty and fitness, nor can one deny that one craves chocolate if one does, nor that one prefers to be in good and attractive physical condition. It is by bringing these elements together in a mature, sane and philosophical way before the bar of Reason to negotiate and plead their cases that the whole self is able to accept the final decision or compromise. It will be balanced, realistic, and conduce to the greatest perceived good. It will be – at least for the moment in life – one’s True Will.
The moral element comes into play when one takes into account an honest assessment of the effects of one’s actions or lack of them on other sentient beings. When one takes cognizance of these, few thoughtful individuals would wish to be agents of harm to others as a good in itself. It is far more attractive to socially sane individuals to prefer the justified approval of others competent to judge than to be the enemy of all. We cannot, of course, always win the approval of others through actions we think good, a thing not under our control since others may make different judgements, but we can carefully weigh our intents in our own souls and enjoy a clear conscience, and to do that is under our power, and much to be desired.
Ultimately the sincere mind must realise that other minds are each to themselves "I", and that that basic isomorphism of self-perception demands a respect from us. Our local True Will has a natural and special concern with our own individual life as its supreme and sovereign governor. At the same time it must remember that each other sentient being is an "I" equally in the centre of the universe and in some sense equally valid. Each has a True Will and a Provisional Will just as one has oneself. Thelemic ethics must be based on this. Justice is the right relationship between the interests of different sentient beings.
Justice, of course, does not prevent conflict with the unjust, the oppressor or the aggressor. And some things are even rightly decided through struggle, though in that case one fights, as Crowley says "as brother with brother". This implies that we have something in common implicit below the surface even with certain kinds of rivals, competitors, opponents or enemies, and this should impose certain limits of decency on conflicts. (Consider Achilles returning Hector’s body to Priam.)
Although we may as brothers (or at least cousins) have to subdue animals with some violence at times (principally insects nowadays), it is a patent abuse to willingly eat the bodies of our more advanced vertebrate cousins, or kill them for their skin or hair. A person who has not been desensitised to this by the example of others will find that his True Will after some exploration will no longer countenance needless carnivorism. True Will is not limited to a human level of intellect. It is, however, limited to conscious beings capable of thought: a tree or an embryo without its cerebral neurons connected or persons with serious brain injury are guided by a "vegetatative soul" that is not comparable to the conscious status necessary for Will in its stricter and truer sense, although in a broader sense we may say that all material entities have "Will", at least the Will to be what they are.
After holosis, the integration of all that we individually are (hence called by Jungians "individuation"), human beings are able to meet their responsibilities to their True Wills both from the standpoint of prudence and morality, the latter as we have said simply our recognition of the reality of other "I-s" and the demands for justice which that makes upon us. It then becomes possible to approach henosis, unification with the universal aspect of our True Will. Although the True Will of every sentient being is individual as it is first perceived, cultivation of it by the adept will disclose its higher and more profound orientations to values and concerns of a more universal nature: the care for the evolution of society and consciousness in the cosmos. The True Will begins to reveal itself as One, a One manifesting itself in many forms in different beings, but essentially one Conative Gesture. This realisation gives meaning to life on the deepest level of our being, a satisfaction more intimate and profound and fulfilling than what is commonly thought of as "happiness".
Finally there exists the potential for theosis, deification. One becomes perfectly responsive to the Universal True Will and carries it out as his her her own purpose. To accomplish this fully is difficult, but to accomplish it in part is feasible for many. The life of Herakles is the type of this process: a choice in finding his True Will in noble things, many labours and struggles, a burning away of the lower purely animal dross, and apotheosis.
Thelema so understood offers much as a spiritual path (icchâyoga), one based on sincerity and increasing oneness. Purified of the excesses and stranger preoccupations of its proposer, the core notion of Thelema is valuable for any who find it congenial.
IV. Romano-Hellenic Paganism: a Choice for the Universal
Neo-pagans have at their disposal a variety of pantheons to which they can offer their worship. Wiccans often prefer the Celtic, Ásatru the Nordic/Teutonic, and many the Egyptian, while those of Mesopotamia tend to get neglected. Perhaps the most interesting preference, however, is for the Roman and Hellenic deities.
These deities are deeply embedded in Western culture. Companies are named after them and space programmes, and their stories are a part of tales told to children, and perennial inspirations to art. Who has not heard of Minerva and of Zeus? Of Apollo and Hera? Of Bacchus and Pan? Of Vulcan and Aphrodite? Under names both Greek and Latin, long since Anglicised to intimate familiarity, these deities are known to virtually all.
The heavy hand of Christian monotheism forbids their worship, but the temptation is always there, due to their lasting and archetypal charms. And to that wholesome temptation the Classical Pagan gives in, and so returns to the beginnings of Occidental civilisation, worshipping the gods and goddesses who made Greece and Rome great.
What might be considered special here is that these are the deities of the whole of Western civilisation. They may have been fostered first among the Mediterranean peoples, but afterwards they spread with civilisation to all parts of Europe, so that they are well known in Germany, Scotland and Sweden as well in southern climes. Thus they are the Universal Gods of Western Civilisation. They stand for the unity of all the Occident and its peoples, and that unity in the humanistic enterprise of creating and carrying on a civilisation based on a continuity with the first full wakenings of the Western consciousness in Greece and Rome (nourished though it was by Mesopotamian and Egyptian accomplishments).
The Celtic, Slavic and Nordic/Teutonic pantheons are certainly European, but they are not universal, and they do not represent the great universal themes of Western Civilisation in the same way. The latter two especially seem tend to lend themselves at times to an almost racistic posturing rather than to drawing together the whole of the Occidental genius.
The worshippers of the Graeco-Roman deities, on the other hand, have elected a deeply humanistic and universal tradition that binds together the "Western Lands" of Europe and the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, all of which are the heirs to Classical Civilisation and its patron divinities. Other lands had and have noble civilisations, of which India and China (also polytheist) are the most outstanding. Europe, however, developed the principles of Critical Philosophy, Experimental Science, Applied Technology and Constitutional Law (with the Rights of Man) far beyond the rest of Humankind, and in these things is a model for the world.
The connection with the divine patrons of this civilisation is no coincidence. These are deities who for the most part revealed themselves to human beings in humanoid forms. Seeing Iuppiter-Zeus depicted as a powerful and wise king holding the rule of the world wisely in his hands, who could fail to note that despite the differences in perfection, stature, longevity, and power, such a divinity is related to us, and that what such deities can do and be, we on a lower level and more modest scale can do and be also. Anthropomorphism is often thought naïve, and so it can be, but it is also humanising, and does not only humanise the gods, but humanises Man and Nature as well. And, conversely, Man can perceive his own kinship with divinity. Other gods may choose theriomorphic or amorphic manifestations, but the Graeco-Roman deities choose to be seen in human guise, and this gives a deep-seated confidence in them and in ourselves, who are seen as akin to them depite our weaknesses and limitations.
These gods watched over the beginnings of the world’s most successful civilisation, but a later religion built on an intolerant enthusiasm usurped their place for two millennia. This was not due to any particular corruption of lack of vigour in the old religion, as is often mistakenly thought, but to an excess of vigour and zeal in the new, and zeal and vigour devoted to the destruction of opponents and the crushing of dissent, whether external or internal.
But the gods of old have never been forgotten, and they remain the symbols of Western humanistic universalism. More than mere symbols, they remain deities that Man can worship, and deities who can reward that worship, as their suppliants can attest from personal experience. Other deities can do the same, but there is a deep appropriateness to the modern return to the deities of the first flowerings of Western Consciousness at this time when Europe especially and the peoples of the Americas are uniting as never before, and when the whole world indeed is uniting in the phenomenon known as globalisation, and needs the genius of Western Civilisation to make of that integration in the end something repecting the humanity of everyone, as only the doctrine of Human Rights born of the Pagan Stoic belief in Natural Law can guarantee.
At this juncture the resurgence of respect and love for the gods of Greece and Rome is an encouraging sign. If we let them, they will again give us the courage, the dignity and the wisdom to take charge of our part of our fate and make the crucial decisions affecting the unification of Mankind and the use of our increasingly god-like technology to perfect and enrich ourselves and our civilisation and to step out with it into the waiting cosmos.
V. Acquaintanceship with the Gods
Those attracted to Classical Paganism may well begin by studying religious art and the sacred tales of mythology, and they may then progress to offering cultic rites to the gods. They may find, however, that they wish to come to a closer acquaintanceship with the deities. In this case various expedients are available, of which the following is one of the easiest and most satisfactory for ordinary purposes.
This process consists of an internal dialogue with the deity one wishes to get to know. This is felt by many to be highly valuable precisely because our unconscious mind (subconscious and superconscious) is in touch with the collective unconscious or perhaps directly with "supernatural" entities (who are known for appearing in dreams and altered states of consciousness as in oracles, for example). What we imagine is perhaps not pure fabrication ex nihilo, but in some cases is a form of perception of something objective which lies not without us but within us. In dreams and in experimenting with the imagination, as we shall shortly be doing, many people have a very strong feeling that this is indeed so, and that Imagination presents to us something it could scarcely have created without some sort of aid from a source greater than itself.
The gods, of course, are also externally objective, as there are other people and endless books capable of informing us about them, and their deeds and influences on the world are in many cases recorded.
Some would dignify the procedure blow as astral travel or projection. Perhaps sometimes it might amount to this, but here we shall stick to a less pretentious term, and simply say "reverie". Others might call this "pathwork", but as it has nothing to do with the paths of the Tree of Life, that does not seem apt here, although there is similarity of method.
Suppose that the worshipper wishes to get to know the Lord Apollo better. (In Greek he is usually called "Ápollon" by the way.) For the reverie, let him (or her) sit in a quiet and congenial place where there will be no disturbances and the light is subdued. Then the body should be relaxed and dispensed with, and one should imagine oneself – dressed in one’s favourite version of classical garments, perhaps – in Mythical Greece.
For Apollo one might choose the Temple at Delphi if one has been there and/or studied reconstructions of the site. It has an impressive Sacred Way winding up the mountain among various treasuries of offerings from different city-states, statues and other sacred objects. Delos is another possibility, where Apollo had his first temple.
Here, however, let us keep things simpler by simply asking you to imagine a mountain arising out of a valley. Mythical Greece is idealised and lifted out of time, so it is not necessary to contextualise it further unless one wishes. The incredibly blue and lucent Greek sky is overhead, perhaps with a small white cloud or two, and birds, but the bright and warm sun and its golden rays dominate the landscape and infuse it with a special feeling of timelessness and life.
Greek flowers are blooming colourfully everywhere and there are herbal odours making the air fresh and sweet. There is the sound of birdsong, and perhaps a distant sound of sheep bleating or cow lowing. A light wind is blowing, which you can feel on your skin. The ground under your feet is hard baked and firm.
You are beside a swiftly-running stream in the valley and can it it splashing over the rocks. Above you up the hill at a little distance is a little white columned temple. There is a gentle path leading towards it. Take the path with the spirit of a pilgrim. As you approach the temple itself, you see there is a sward of grass before it watered by a little fountain coming out of the cliff beside it with a small stone-bordered pool beneath it. Go over to the pool and wash your hands and face in the surprisingly cool water to purify yourself. Then approach the temple, walking on the soft grass and admiring the white of the building against the blue of the sky. There are green laurel and cypress trees beside and behind it.
As you prefer, you may enter the temple to meet the god or await him below the few steps. The appearance of the god may be highly variable, but usually he will have fairly long hair (possibly gathered up by a laurel wreath), and a fine and perfect young-man’s body, not necessarily extremely muscular. He may seem to glow with a golden light, and he may wear nothing or a light wrap or a full robe. If you cannot see him perfectly or consistently, do not worry.
Salute him with a kiss blown by kissing the right hand and moving it forward in an arc to the right. Raise your hands fingers up beside your face with the palms facing the god, and address him in fitting words. Later you may lower your hands if the conversation is to be long.
The god will most likely reply. You are not to decide what he is to say; he – or at the very least, your subconscious – is perfectly capable of answering, and the voice you hear will not sound like your own inner voice.
You can then interact with the god as you like, always in a respectful, but not fearful, manner. Apollo is a god of unusually noble, elevated and pure character. He is the Good God, and he is a God of Light. However, he is by personality rather distant and aloof in most cases, and you should not take this personally.
Apollo is a god of prophecy, so it would be appropriate to ask him for prophecies – if you are sure you really want them – or advice. He is very concerned with moderation, prudence and ethical considerations, and his advice may well reflect this.
He is also a god of healing as Apollon Iatros or (in Latin) Apollo Medicus. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for healing here, just as you would in front of your family or personal altar. Note that the god might sometimes give you advice on physicians or treatment rather than simply healing you outright, which is also possible. Problems with nervous or emotional problems can be alleviated by him as well.
Apollo is the patron of the arts and sciences, and it is appropriate to ask him for help and inspiration in respect of these realms of life. He may often do this in a dream or later, as you work creatively.
He is besides being the player of the lyre (or other string instruments) also the wielder of the golden bow, and he might be sufficiently outraged by some tale of cruelty or injustice to take action against the offenders, especially if you have developped a special relationship with him.
The Lord Apollo is also noted for purifying the penitant, so it is appropriate to ask him for purification from the impurity (miasma) resulting from misdeeds of a fairly serious nature, of which you might be ashamed. In this case he will tell you what to do to be purified. This may include ritual bathing, (non-blood) sacrifices, compensation, askesis or some combination of these. He may purify on condition of performing these or ask you to come back after doing them. The purification of Apollo is effective, and can enable one to overcome past errors and begin afresh.
After conducting your business with the god or being dismissed, bow and blow another kiss and depart with gratitude. When you are out of sight of the temple or again beside the stream you may think of your physical body and gently return, remembering to do whatever the god requested or suggested, and perhaps taking notes and considering your experience at leisure. Burning some incense to the god would now be very appropriate, to unite your reverie and normal waking experience.
Such reverie experiences are basically personal, and on the basis of them one should not expect to have major new revelations to take to the world. One can in this way get to know the personalities of the gods, however, in a very personal way, and the advice given by them is normally excellent. Normally one would go to a number of different gods for different purposes, although in principle a favourite deity could help with anything.
If one is abused in any way, told to do anything against one’s conscience, or feels any unwholesomeness or evil about the entities one encounters, it should be assumed that the entity is not a god, and one should leave. In such a situation it might be desirable to pray and sacrifice to the god in question at one’s altar and ask for protection and a genuine contact. Using a banishing rite or casting a protective circle around oneself in advance of the reverie might also help, if one knows how.
Naturally the gods can also be approached by prayer, sacrifice, oracular consultation, special rites (dance, music, drugs, etc.), dreams, mediumship, and theurgy (sacred magic). The above method will be very appropriate for many worshippers, however.
VI. Paganism and Freedom of Choice
Paganism is essentially the religion of choice: each believer is free to adopt his own pantheon and seek special relationships with patron deities which are especially attractive and relevant, and so conducive to meaningful spirituality. Pagans do not accept the right of anyone to dictate their objects of worship, but seek within for the affinities that will guide aright each person as spiritual being in finding the particular aspects of the divine which are special gateways into the life of the spirit for that person.
"Freedom of Choice" is an expression that conjures up another issue, that of reproductive rights, and specifically the right to abortion. That pagans should uphold freedom in this sphere of life as well is highly appropriate, partly from their general concern with freedom, partly from a special emphasis on the equality of female concerns (half of all pagan deities, more or less, being female), and partly from normal common sense and ethics not distorted by bad theology.
The Roman Catholic Church, looking at the matter from the standpoint of a theory of "ensoulment", decided that the soul enters the conceptus as fertilisation. In so doing, it rejected the venerable alternative doctrine that it enters at the first breath after birth, which would certainly make abortion theologically less problematic, and not put a finished human soul inside the body of another person.
Perhaps the thinking which led to this is difficulty in properly conceptualisng the notion of potentiality and that of alternative worlds. As to potentiality, it is obvious to anyone that a pile of bricks, timber, nails and other building materials is a potential house, but not yet a house. When one conceives of the conceptus, embryo and foetus, no one doubts that they are a potential human being – the problem arises when one forgets that potential does not mean actual. The potential human, like the potential house, is not yet human.
This tends to be forgotten because in the case of the house the human effort necessary to make the materials into the actual house cannot be ignored. In the case of the conceptus/embryo/foetus the ability of self-organisation obscures the fact that the active and hopefully willing contribution of a woman is necessary. Also, the idea that this is "natural", and that using medical technology to avoid the unwanted actualisation of a new human being is "unnatural" is covertly active – a most viciously coercive refusal to consider the fact that a woman might not wish to have a child whenever a conception unintentionally takes place, when in fact she almost always does not wish this in such a case.
Then too, the true notion that each actual human being in the world started his or her individual biological life as a conceptus is easily misconstrued as implying that every conceptus will become an actual human being. This, of course, is false. Some will be spontaneously aborted, some will perish with the body of the woman bearing them should she die, and some will be medically aborted. For these all, there will never be a human life, so they are not the beginnings of anyone’s human life. For an actual human being to think back on a possible world in which he was aborted might make him or her insecure – but it is an unreal world, and aborted foeti were never able to think and never will be. Their situation is like the numberless spermatazoa and ova which never unite. Sentimentality about and false identification with such entities is mentally unhealthy and intellectually dishonest.
Another tack that might be taken by the advocates of enforced pregnancy is to say that a conceptus/embryo/foetus is already human by virtue of having a human form (at a certain stage of development) and human genetic structure. However, these do not make a human in the relevant sense. If I were to be injured in an automobile accident in such a way that the higher centres of my brain were completely destroyed, while the vegetative centres were intact enough to keep me spontaneously alive, I would wish the perfect (and even mature) human form with vast quantitites of human DNA in it to be killed as useless in any human sense. What makes us human is the human mind/spirit, which is only really actualised after language and abstract thought and sense of self-conscious identity is aquired. Any living entity without that would at best be an animal in actual fact, whatever potential it might have -– and potential has been dealt with above.
As we see, the conceptus/embryo/foetus is not a human being in the sense that gives it the special rights of a human being, and although potentially human, it does not necessarily have to become so. Starkly speaking, it is a seriously immature animal living in another human being’s body and actively threatening to grow until it causes great pain and some danger to that human being, followed by ethical and social problems. If thought of as part of the woman’s body, she surely has a right to have it removed as she might a gangrenous limb; if it is thought of as a separate intruding being, then she has the right to evict it forthwith by fatal means as she would any dangerous or obnoxious parasite.
Indeed, such a level of trespassing and intrusion by another human being – considerably more intimate, persistent and intrusive than rape – would surely merit the use of lethal force to stop the violation, and the demonstration of the non-humanity of the invader actually does not make any difference. A woman has a right to defend herself against parasitic invasion, unwanted occupation of her body, and the threat of the extreme pain of giving birth intact to an entity she does not wish to nurture.
This is the true value that advocates of Freedom of Choice are defending – not whether to give birth to a child or not, but to maintain the basic integrity of one’s own body and life. Those who would deny this evident natural right are people who would use coercion to force women to carry for nine long months parasites they do not want in them at all, and then to suffer to the maximum threshold of tolerable human pain to get it out. In earlier times, when their power was greater, these people would also then force the woman to care for the unwanted child regardless of the impact of that on the woman, her husband, other children and society. And without considering the suffering of being an unwanted and resented child.
The woman might by the same people be condemned for having the sex that led to the child, as though the pleasure of sex should be punished. The perversity of punishing a natural and harmless pleasure that can readily be rendered safe by contraceptives backed with abortion – both condemned by many of the same people – is another example of mental and mora l perversity and blatant injustice.
That the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox are not much better) should have such a loveless, cruel and irrational element in its moral theology at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century is an abomination before all gods, goddesses, men, and women. The mainstream Protestant versions of Christianity have done much better on the whole, and we might note that they mostly allow for female clergy too, as well as greater democracy in their organisation. Thus, instead of a minority of celebate male gerontocrats with a distincly biased outlook on the real problems of the world, we have among the Protestants organisations more responsive to women and to younger, sexually active human beings.
Pagans, being worhippers of numerous goddesses equally with the gods (and some even worshipping the Goddess in the prime place) have an even greater natural concern for women’s issues than Protestant Christians still limited to a single male deity. They also do not have hierarchies in place to hold onto any false notions of doctrinal purity, but can freely act individually or in mutually-concerned groups. It thus behooves them to speak out for the rights of women and their human dignity. Pagans do not have fixed and prestigious leaders to speak for them and lobby behind the scenes as the enemies of freedom do, so it therefore is up to Pagans as individuals and to their councils to speak out often and forcefully for full freedom in reproductive rights for all the women of the world, and to expose the cruelty and irrationality of those who would deny abortions to those needing them.
No method of birth control, except sterilisation, is totally safe. Abortion as a back up is an integral part of reproductive self-regulation and responsible family planning. All decent human beings should be concerned to create a world in which every child is only born because it is wanted, and that it will receive decent nutrition, health-care and education, and a reasonable chance at a decent life in a decent environment. Just as they should be concerned to create a world in which all medical means should be available to allow sex to be enjoyed without transmitting disease or perpetuating pregnancies in women not wanting them.
VII. Towards a Pagan Quakerism
There has been in the world for over three centuries a most extraordinary movement using the most ordinary yet extraordinary means to produce ordinary persons of extraordinary moral and spiritual character: the Quakers. Born in the enthusiastic Christian dissent of the Seventeenth Century, these people today, numbering between two hundred and three hundred thousand, emphasise the Inner Light in every human being as the supreme test of spiritual truth and goodness, and the importance of moving themselves and the world around them towards perfection under the guidance of that Light.
They have been a minority that has consistently "punched above its weight" in social improvement, being one of the historically decisive groups in eliminating slavery, reforming prisons, testifying for peace, achieving suffrage for women, and establishing the women’s and racial equality movements.
Their greatest achievement, however, has perhaps been their Meeting for Worship, which is conducted in a receptive and unifying silence, broken (sometimes) by brief sharings aloud of the inward fruits of the silence. The effect of this meditation, which unites both an openness to the Inner Light in each and a collective involvement in which all present are collected into a unique unity by the silence and the Spirit, is to produce a nurturing of the spirit of the first order – it is different from the results of solitary meditation (even if done in a group) or most rituals.
Now, the idea of the Inner Light is just as Pagan (and Buddhist and Taoist and Hindu…) as it is Christian – a fact which Quakers right from the beginning realised, and which eventually led to the Universalist tendency in Quakerism which has long since broken out of an exclusively Christian identity for the movement. The Wiccan Charge of the Goddess clearly emphasises the inwardness of the Goddess in each person as the highest possible personal realisation of Her. In Romano-Hellenic Paganism the idea is also deeply enradicated.
Seneca writes, for instance:
We do not need to uplift our hands towards heaven, or to beg the keeper of a temple to let us approach his idol’s ear, as if in this way our prayers were more likely to be heard. God is near you, he is with you, he is within you. This is what I mean, Lucillius: a holy spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian. As we treat this spirit, so are we treated by it. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of God. Can one rise superior to fortune unless God helps him to rise? He it is that gives noble and upright counsel. In each good man ‘a god doth dwell, but which god we know not’
Roman Paganism had always recognised the Genius in men and later the Iuno in each woman. Hellenism often spoke of the idios daimon (‡dioj da…mon) as a sort of higher self or guardian spirit. Socrates’ daimon is a case in point. Stoicism considers each person to have a Divine Spark, identified with the Logos or Reason (LÒgoj / Ratio), which is a reflection of the Cosmic Zeus. The Pythagorean lineage speaks of the "Highest Flower of the Soul" or "Flower of Nous" in a similar way.
These ideas are, of course, reminiscent of the Hindu Âtman which is the internal Brahman, and the Mahayanist Buddha Nature or Original Nature, which is thought of as the capacity and impulse to become a buddha, and the indwelling Reality of of the Dharmakâya everywhere.
This close parallelism of notions might justifiably incline some Pagans to avail themselves of the Quaker Meeting discipline in order to nurture this type of shared (and almost universal) spirituality. And the willingness of Universalist Quakers to accept them with open arms makes this possible. As a result, there are a number of "Quagans" and "Quiccans" in the world today who combine some other Pagan practice with membership in the Religious Scoeity of Friends (Quaker).
Going beyond this, there seems no reason why Pagan Friends need always be marginal members of Quaker meetings. We are perfectly capable of founding our own Pagan Universalist Quaker meetings where needed. And this offers many advantages.
The Meeting for Worship is non-ritualistic and conducted in a plain and simple room. This absence of the symbols of any specific tradition at once obviates the need for deciding on common ones or some mixture when Pagans of different traditions wish to meet together in a fully religious context. Nothing prohibits the participants from conceiving of the deities which "cover" the Meeting with their light as being or including their own, and insights formed during the common silence and coming from different traditional mindsets will be generally welcome if the Spirit moves one to share them orally.
The Quaker Meeting can be the Esperanto of Worship – it provides a simple and neutral medium in which communication with the Gods and each other can easily take place together between members of different Pagan traditions. The feeling of spiritual nutriment which it provides is special and very substantial.
The Quaker Way includes three other elements that can be useful for Pagans. One of these is the method of using "Advices and Queries" to be occasionally read out aloud, occasionally read privately, occasionally discussed. Without repeating creeds or commandments, these short documents advise and ask in ways that gently but penetratingly remind us of how to live a good life.
Another is the personal and social testimonies of Quakerism. Quakers encourage sincerity, simplicity and integrity in life, and the application of love and discernment in all things. Out of concern for society Quakers have collective testimonies for human equality and peace. It is also nowadays deeply concerned with the environment, although its concern for animal rights and vegetarianism could certainly be fruitfully strenthened by a Pagan presence. Many Pagans are socially involved as a part of their religion, but others are not, and a Pagan Quaker body could bring all Pagans together in numbers perhaps more effective for reaching the desired goals.
Finally, the Quakers have developed a characteristic Meeting for Business, which is really a modified Meeting for Worship. It is not based on voting or ordinary consensus, but on finding the divine will expressed through the various partial insights of the participants. It has served the Quakers well for three hundred years, and its simple hierarchy of monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings to which everyone belongs as an individual permits the uniting of large numbers of meetings over a large area with a minimum of bureaucracy.
Quakerism, like the pantheons in which most Pagans believe, disperses power in a pluralistic way. Spiritually talented persons may acquire great influence, but the decision-making process and power structure does not permit a dictatorship of anyone or of any minority or even of a simple majority.
An assembly of Quagans would be in an excellent position to unite Pagans of different traditions. A meeting is typically larger than a traditional coven, and non-Wiccan groups of a given tradition usually are quite small in any given urban area due to their unaccustomenedness for most people. With an opportunity to commune together in worship, in social activism, and in providing the services for pastoral care, marriage, burial, etc. a Quagan meeting could enable a larger community and sharing of benefit to all Pagans.
It is an option to be most seriously considered.
VIII,. Universalism and Paganism
If we say "Universalism", what should come to mind, in the religious sense of the term, is both Unitarian-Universalists and Quaker Universalists. Both of these groups emphasise the fact that valid and valuable religious experience and practice occur in diverse religious traditions and not only in the Christian traditions from which those two groups were born.
But Paganism should, I propose, be rightly considered as a universalist religion as well. In saying this, of course, we must somehow deal with the problem of the particularism of Paganism. But although it is a religion of many flavours indeed, looked at with an eye accustomed to unifying, they look remarkably s imilar. Pagans in general:
1. believe in the existence of varying numbers of gods and goddesses in some relation to one another,
2. believe that other deities may also exist and be valid objects of worship, and may even always or sometimes be alternative forms of the deities of one’s own tradition,
3. believe that it is spiritually (and perhaps materially) useful, as well as desirable, to worship the deities of one’s tradition,
4. believe that their deities may be approached and rightly worshipped by rituals, mostly involving sacrifice, prayer or invocation, and often a sanctified area
There are variations, such as Wiccans not believing in sacrifice, while considering magic an integral part of their religion, but in general the above is true.
If we examine the above four traits in contrast to the Three Great Monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), we find that the first two points are where the difference lies. These in theory believe in only one god, and other gods are not given credence or respect. We say "in theory" because Christian trinitarianism gives us three "persons" of god who stand in a relation to one another which would be right at home in some schools of Paganism! It is, in any case, a rigidly closed system. And we might note that most adherents of those traditions would hold that they all believe in the same one real god.
Paganism, therefore, is in tune with Hinduism and Taoism and most of the smaller-scale ethnic religions of the world, and is therefore highly universalistic. Its diversity simply stresses how many sub-traditions are encompassed by the doctrines expressed in the four points above.
Because of the differences in the concrete deities and exact traditions of calendar and ritual it is relatively difficult for Pagans to worship together – although in practice they sometimes do so – but it is still possible for them to unite in silent services and to coöperate in social action.
Relations with the monotheistic traditions is more difficult, due to the exclusivity of their gods – one of them even speaks of being a "jealous god"! But jealousy among gods is even less pretty than among human beings, and if they exclude our gods and goddesses from their legitimate status, we cannot have good theological relations with them no matter how much we esteem their followers and wish peace with them.
It should be remembered that in some Pagan traditions (e.g. the Stoic) there is a Godhead uniting all reality and all personal deities. This parallels Hinduism, which recognises the impersonal Brahman side by side with an abundant array of personal deities. The impersonal Brahman is present in and gives their deific power to the personal deities, while the latter are willing and able, generally, to help the individual human worshipper realise the impersonal Brahman within him as Âtman. Neither squeezes the other out.
A Pagan can, therefore, recognise the one Godhead of the universe together with monotheists, but he must insist that if the monotheists wish to speak of a personal god, that deity cannot deny his fellow gods and goddesses. At most he might be equated to Cosmic Zeus, the Logos, celebrated by Cleanthes, as indeed the Romans equated Yahweh with Iuppiter.
A single personal deity, however, is bound to be of one sex (unless hermaphroditic…), and this is not very satisfactory as the complete personal representation of the whole of the Divine. In the end monotheism is not as universalistic as Paganism.
IX. Pagan Philosophy – the Stoic Model for Today
Unlike the case in some religions, in Romano-Hellenistic Paganism the functions of the sacerdotal practitioner or priest and those of the theologian and moral counsellor are for the most part separate. Thus, one must be careful not to isolate the ritualistic and devotional aspects from the totality of the Pagan tradition.
The philosophers that one may elect are somewhat diverse, but the two main traditions are those of Pythagoras/Plato/Plotinus on the one hand, and the Stoics on the other. Here, I would like to look at the Stoics, inasmuch as Stoicism seems to me to be unusually appropriate for modern human beings, and easily adapted to modern science.
Because Stoicism is somewhat paradoxical in places, let us first sketch out the basic doctrines, and then consider some of the objections. As we shall present it here, Stoicism is a thoroughly modern set of beliefs and values deeply rooted in Pagan faith and practice.
Stoicism is based on its physics and metaphysics. The universe is the material universe as we know it. As in orthodox physics there are matter and energy. The matter is thought of as passive in Stoicism, and in fact it represents a concretisation or "crystalisation" of pure energy in accordance with certain determining or formal elements. Thus, matter is particulate, and atomic structures give rise to particular elemental traits. It is, however, in both traditional Stocism and modern physics convertible to and from energy.
Energy in physics is the capacity "to do work", i.e. to influence matter. In Stoicism all energy (pyr technikon) is thought to represent the immanent universal working of the Divine. Naturally this includes biological forms of energy and mental energies. Summed up, they have a holistic intelligent structure of Will and Power, which is the Cosmic Zeus. This evidently implies that the portion which resides in us, and especially the Rational part of it is also divine in nature.
Living organisms, including humankind, have a basic desire to live and to procreate. This is called oikeiosis. It is natural for this in human beings to extend to the family (spouse and children), the extended family of clan and tribe and nation, then to all human beings and finally to all sentient beings. Thus, the basic psychological urge to survive is seen in Stoicism not as the base for selfishness, but as the very foundation of a personal moral and affective development which leads to a natural universal love. Only the arrest at some stage of this natural development yields an unwholesome particularism.
Human beings, of course, not only wish to live and procreate, but wish to enjoy happiness, and Stoicism considers Philosophy to have a duty to make this possible. The Stoic strategy is to urge us to discriminate carefully between desires which will yield happiness and those which will yield unhappiness. Desiring the effectively impossible is evidently a self-frustrating strategy. If we as mortals think that we or our loved ones will live forever, that we can escape all sickness, misfortune and unpleasantness, that we can be completely free in all things, etc., the desires and expectations arising from this will surely be the sources of unhappiness. The desire for perfection is the creator of suffering.
Effectively, we can only control our own will at any given moment, and beyond that Fortune reigns. The only real good to humankind, therefore, is moral goodness, virtue. Health, popularity, personal beauty, power, wealth, etc. are not goods, but indifferent things.
Stoicism admits, however, that some indifferent things are preferable and some not – but it does not want to confuse this with actual goodness. Natural desires are finite and their fulfillment wholesome in result.
By wanting whatever is we are not bowing to Fortune, but accepting Universal Providence, the fundamental Rational structure of events. Thus we are accepting the will of the gods, laid out from all eternity. We may, of course, choose to take action to make the state of things more desirable in the future – accepting the given state of things does not preclude acting on that state, and actions should be directed at improving things. Tranquillity of soul, peace of mind, and a clear conscience, however, in short happiness, are derivable from a strict personal discipline of acceptance of what is, and determined action to make it better, using all obstacles as fuel for the fire of the virtuous soul in action.
Passion is the enemy of virtue. This does not simply mean emotion or even strong emotion, but emotion which actually is so extreme or misguided that it has a deleterious effect on our thought or conduct. Emotion involves a concept and an affective reaction which mobilises the body in a feedback loop of changed respiration, heartbeat and muscle tone, as well as hormone release. This, when perceived by the mind again, can amplify its original reaction and intensify its impact on the body, and so forth. The result of such feedback loops is that we are led astray from right thought and action: we overshoot the sane and rational response through excessive excitation (or undershoot it through excessive inhibition if our inhibitory systems are overactive). Milder and more constructive emotions in accordance with the Reason are not so perilous, and can even be life enhancing. Nonetheless, the Stoic ideal is usually described as "apathy" – freedom from the destructive and distorting passions. This terminology is not to be misunderstood as meaning that Stoics do not care about anything.
The Stoic, therefore, will live rationally. This does not mean coldly or unfeelingly, but it does mean sanely, maturely and with a serene and centred equilibrium, never denying facts, but always acting to make the best of any situation. Integrity, benevolence, and high-mindedness characterise the Stoic soul.
Human beings are social animals, and the individual exists to serve others. Justice, Fortitude, Wisdom, and Temperence are the Four Cardinal Virtues: the disposition to give everyone his due, the strength to overcome fear as an obstacle to right action, knowledge of how to act rightly, and the ability to control oneself and avoid undesirable excess. Social Man lives in the Cosmopolis, the City of Zeus, for the universe is seen as the homeland, and distinctions of superficial custom, language, etc. are seen as trivial. Men and women, free persons or slaves, all are citizens of the Cosmic Polity under the Law of Zeus, i.e. of Reason. Merely human governments can only approximate to this.
One objection to Stoicism is that the Stoic is relatively indifferent to anything except virtue, the only true good, but virtuous action consists of helping others to enjoy things such as health, which are not true goods, but only preferables. This argument is clever, but misses the point. Although Stoicism makes a decision between goods and preferables, in fact they are all in some sense goods and all in some sense preferables. However, we can normally not make another person good (except perhaps indirectly), but we can help him to acquire preferables, so that is what the Stoic does for others, and it has genuine worth.
Another objection is to Stoic determinism. How can there be true moral choice if there is no free will? This again is a falsely conceived problem. Human choice is not random, but has motivations or causes. Truly random choice would look like insanity, for it would not relate to any human need. We in fact have our reasons for choosing, and at the final moment of confirming our choice our subconscious reasons also influence us. Because we are not compelled, we feel we are free when we decide about anything, but what we freely choose is due to our own nature, determined by heredity and environment, and the nature of the situation. We can will whatever we will, but we cannot will to will what we do not will. We are our natures.
The fact that a person is good if he has a good nature and bad if he has a bad nature does not become morally irrelevant simply because one’s nature is conditioned by heredity and environment. It is not what causes the good or evil that matters, but what the person will tend to do.
An objection is also made to Stoicism that it is too rationalistic. This is often the result of a misapprehension of the notion of reason in Stoicism. Reason is not only the human calculating faculty (ratiocination), but is also the total conscious mind including the rational will and the rational intuition. It is true that the idea of a transrational divinity within is not pointed to, but there is an idea of a profundity in the mind also corresponding to this. Marcus Aurelius writes:
Dig within. There lies the well-spring of good: ever dig, and it will ever flow.
This could easily have been written by a Taoist or a Quaker.
Marcus Aurelius also gives a good summing up of the Stoic Way:
Live with the gods. To live with the gods is to show them at all times a soul contented with their awards, and wholly fulfilling the will of that inward divinity, that particle of himself, which Zeus has given to every man for ruler and guide – the mind and the reason.
Keep yourself simple, good, pure, serious, and unassuming, a friend of justice and godliness; kindly, affectionate, and resolute in your devotion to duty. Strive your hardest to be always such a man as Philosophy would have you be. Reverence the gods, succour your fellow-mortals. Life is short, and this earthly existence has but a single fruit to yield – holiness within and selfless action without.
The nobility of such a philosophy is evident. Surely by showing us how to be happy and good in the face of all things it does everything that could be expected of philosophy, and so merits being taken seriously as a potential guide for our lives.
X. The Discernment of Spirits
Pagans, like the followers of monotheisms, believe that if we pray to the gods (or sometimes even when we do not), the gods will communicate with us inwardly by sending feelings, leadings, dreams, visions, or even words to us, and by sending signs externally. It then becomes important to be able to discern whether or not a message is a true one.
Our imaginations are our chief means of thinking and of perceiving the responses of the gods. At the same time, imagination is phantasy – it can show us unreal things. How can we tell the difference reliably?
In the first place, unless a god is sending a very serious warning about something quite unpleasant, especially in a dream, there is going to be a wholesome feeling to the communication, and something of the divine light and fragrance. Gods do not give off the feelings of evil daemons (although evil daemons may try to resemble gods). If you feel that any communication is uncomfortably uncanny, if there is a darkness of feeling or a sulphurousness smelt or felt, or a feeling of menace, then doubt the message.
It is true that the chthonic gods, especially if one were to invoke them out of doors at night or underground, might convey a "creepy" feeling or even terror, depending on one’s views about them. Still, Hades, for example, is not a ghost. He may be very serious, but he is the brother of Zeus, and is just and decent. He may inspire a dreadful awe, but should not inspire terror. Persephone, although thought by some to judge the dead, is basically a lovely woman who does not even live in the Lower Realms full time. Hekate might be frightening to one who only knows her as the patronness of Thessalian witches, but in fact she is also the personification of the World-Soul, and is a charming goddess in more ways than one.
Pan may provoke sudden irrational fear (panic!), especially out of doors in wild places. Most deities do not. Awe is not the same as normal fear or terror. Ghosts may also be frightening to many people, although they are basically harmless in the vast majority of cases. Their messages will not usually be particularly exalted, however, and they tend to be concerned with their own problems (as opposed to spirits at a séance, who may be all too interested in yours!).
Gods are good. Therefore, if a leading or message seems to call upon you to do something you consider immoral or unethical, it is wise to be very dubious about it. Of course Dionysos might suggest becoming inebriated, and you may feel that such behaviour is bad. Unless you are an alcoholic or the designated driver, perhaps a leading from Dionysos is intended to liberate you a bit from excessive conventionality, personal stiffness or a misguided perfectionism, and you should yield. Similarly to a leading from Aphrodite or Eros. If you do not have a committed relationship with someone else, and conception and disease transfer are technically under control, why not enjoy yourself? Social convention and campaigns designed to manipulate young people to say "No!" against their natural instincts are very obvious targets for gods who just want to liberate us and help our personal development. Take their suggestions seriously.
However, in the final analysis it is you who must decide on all moral questions, and you have the duty and the right to remain morally autonomous.
Anything suggestive of madness (with some leeway for Dionysos) is not from the gods – unless one of them has decided to punish you with madness for some offence, in which case you should try to solve the problem as soon as possible.
If Apollo or the Muses inspire your creative endeavour, you can judge the authenticness of the message by its artistic or aesthetic quality. Stupid, clumsy or shoddy notions are not from them!
Generally speaking, any leadings which feel unwholesome, uncanny, impure, evil, or vile are from more or less evil daemons or your own (diseased!) imagination. Gods do not normally create sordid impressions or ideas leading to despair.
Unless you have a close personal relationship with a deity, the deity will usually only be interested in things in his or her particular sphere of interest. If Artemis urges you to take a girl to bed, you should be very suspicious about such uncharacteristic behaviour. Or if Hephaistos warns you about the need to water your garden! Or if Poseidon suggests that you take a restorative walk the length of the Sahara Desert! But do not jump to conclusions. It would be natural for Artemis to have a close relationship to the girl (since young girls often serve her and have a special relationship with her) and to know that she needs a man at this stage in her life. Hephaistos might have a profound interest in your high-technology underground watering system, although your plants do not interest him. Poseidon might have some use for your experience of the oases in the Sahara. Gods often are involved in unusual connections between things, so one should not judge too hastily on this criterion.
Leadings from spirits may also be tested by use of the Chevreul Pendulum, prayer to the concerned god for confirmation by an alternative method, or consultation of oracles.
Scholarships for Pagans and Wiccans
College Money for Witches and Earth Children
Paganism is a wide reaching term for many of the oldest spiritual pursuits on the planet. If you are a follower of one of the ancient Earth-centred religions, then you are formally considered a Pagan. Wicca is a recently created, Earth centered, Neopagan religion. There are options for Pagans wand Wiccans if you wish to apply for assistance in financing your post-secondary education. Those individuals interested in learning about Paganism or Wicca may also qualify for assistance. Perhaps you will find one of the following options helpful:
Free Spirit’s College Scholarship Program
The Program provides two scholarships in the amount of $500 each. The student does not have to be pursuing a traditional program of study at a traditional college. Enrollment in a therapeutic massage program, holistic healing program or other non-traditional program qualifies.
Scholarship funding comes from donations made by the community. Applications are ranked, with emphasis being given to the essay section, and the two highest-scoring candidates are selected. Please note that even though the Program is sponsored by a Pagan organization, applicants of any religious faith are welcome to apply for funding.
Pagan Alliance of Nurses
The Pagan Alliance of Nurses (PAN) offers a scholarship in the amount of $200 to assist nursing students, nurses, and other health care providers in financing their education. Recipients must be members of PAN or, alternatively, be the significant other or family member of a PAN member and currently enrolled in a nursing program.
Applicants are asked to submit an original essay on a topic chosen by PAN in order to be considered for funding.
Carolina Spirit Quest
A scholarship in the amount of $500 is available to a Pagan high school senior, at least 17 years of age, enrolling in a four-year degree, or a current full-time college or university student who resides in either the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina, or South Carolina. A GPA of 2.8 or above is required, along with an official transcript.
Candidates are asked to provide a written application with a brief (100 words or less) explanation of why they are applying for this scholarship. In addition, a 500-word essay setting out what being a Pagan means to the individual is required.
“Maypole Joe” Memorial Scholarship
Named for Joe Propper, this scholarship is awarded to a Pagan student who has dedicated him or herself to improving the planet by way of community service. Funding in the amount of $250.00 is made available to either a full- or part-time student who is taking 6 credits or more each semester. Applicants must have achieved a GPA of 2.5 or higher to be considered.
To apply, submit an application form, an official transcript, and an original essay.
University of Oxford, The Griffith Egyptological Fund
Grants from the Griffith Egyptological Fund are defined as being for “the promotion of research into the history and antiquities of Egypt and the Nile Valley and the anthropology of north-east Africa so far as it concerns the study of Ancient, Hellenistic, and Christian Egypt and the early pagan and Christian kingdoms of the Nilotic Sudan, including such linguistic, religious, and cultural survivals as may throw light upon these matters, but excluding special studies of Muhammadanism and Islamic art”.
Support could include conference attendance to deliver papers; research trips to work with collections and in the field in Egypt; the cost of equipment; software; the preparation of publication materials in the form of line drawings and photographs, with associated costs.
Modern Witchcraft School
The Modern Witchcraft School offers an introductory course on Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft, both in theory and in practice. Students can choose to study online or by correspondence. Reduced tuition is available for an online course of study.