I recently read an article on a well published website, where a noted blogger was discussing her crisis of faith with modern paganism and its many derivatives. I respect this author and have read her writings for some time, but felt a bit annoyed by the tone of the piece. Now, don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed her honesty and ability to thoughtfully convey her doubts, and readily admit, that even pagan die-hards like myself have periods of dryness, of heartache, of questioning our thoughts and convictions. However, what disturbed me most about the article was the fallback of the author on the ‘spiritual sanctuary’ and ‘inspiration’ of ‘Abrahamic’ religions to offer support that paganism was unable to provide. Really? In the interest of animistic polytheists like myself, I would like to offer a rebuttal….and I hope one as equally thought out and well-written as that of my doubting, searching sister.
The background, the foundation and the infrastructure of monotheistic religion is pagan in origin. In his 1878 Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine, John H. Newman wrote:
“The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees, incense, lamps and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holy days and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields, sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the east, images at a later date, the ecclesiastical chant and the Kyrie Eleison are all of pagan origin and sanctified by their adoption into the Church.”
From the dying god mythos to current holiday celebrations of Oestre and Yule, the ‘Abrahamic’ religions felt a need to incorporate the strength, endurance and the longevity of the pagan culture into their own to attract converts and to stabilize a religion that was only gaining followers with bullying tactics and torturous threats.
To me, these examples symbolize the strength and stability of the pagan path and its origins. It deeply resonates with humanity and is not a path of shifting sand, but rather, so strong that its own symbols and ancestral tenets were adopted by a religion grasping for solidity after a sloppy, sophomoric start.
If one is not religious or has no firm anchor on which to attach, then during the buffeting winds of life, one may find oneself battered and bruised and left wondering what the hell happened. Paganism is no different. It is my belief that one must have something greater than oneself to call upon; be it the Gods, Mother Earth, the Cosmos, the Cosmic Web, or the Fates.
Philosopher and historian, Mircea Eliade, in his book, “The Myth of Eternal Return”, views the sacred as ‘….a construct of human consciousness.’ ‘All things reveal and all things conceal, the Nature of Being”. This ambiguity is echoed in doubts of Pagans and Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims all over the globe. Doubt is not wholly the pagan’s playground. It is the Nature of things to Change. Change is the only constant and nothing is set, but only our belief makes it so. No religion or belief system holds the key to stability, to sanctuary, to firm foundation, to doubt-free existence. However, I agree with Eliade on the point that the “…Earth herself is intuitively a religious form”. The Earth Mother and the Divine Feminine historically have been ‘anchors’ for pagans; that port in the storm to which we cling.
She is our source of protection, nourishment and Power from which we all draw. We are taken out of ourselves and thrown about the Cosmos on Her whim. She is life to us, She is faith to us, She is mother and destroyer to us. She is not shifting sand. She is mountain, ocean, elemental and solid. There is nothing ‘weak’ or ‘shifty’ abiding here. The Christian and Jewish patriarchs who claim ‘dominion’ over Her must surely be jesting. Dominion? I see no evidence of man holding dominion over his own paltry life, let alone the most Ancient Gaia. We are ruled by Her moods, Her weather, Her changes and now, our ignorant destruction of Her. We shall pay for our disregard and narcissism.
All of mankind occasionally finds themselves careening through rolling waves of doubt. This is nothing new, nor is there any belief system that will eradicate it fully. I myself rest on the oldest of religions; the primitive, powerful, magical system that has sustained humanity for thousands of years before the birth of an Abraham or Jesus. I need no scapegoat god to hold up my ceiling of faith. I have my ancestors, my Deities, the Earth Mother and the magic of the spheres. I have the elements, the Spirits, the Dark Arts which tap into the Unknown. I shiver in anticipation of my faith. What will it bring? What will be the ending? Doubts there may sometimes be, but faith pervades and ultimately remains sure on a mountain of history, on an ocean of evidence, on a personal decision to return to the archaic and ancient; on all the history and legacy that transcends the shifting sands of time.
Sjoo, Monica and Mor, Barbara. The Great Cosmic Mother. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.
Eliade, Mircea. Patterns of Comparative Religion. New York: Skeed and Ward, 1958.
Eliade, Mircea. The Myth of Eternal Return or Cosmos and History. New York: HarperTorch Books, 1954.