I often wonder, when playing that endlessly amusing game we humans play, of categorizing and labeling everything under the sun, that we may understand things better, “What type of Pagan am I?
I know what type of Pagan I am not. I am not a “The Secret” type of Pagan. I do not believe the universe exists to give us stuff, and all we have to do to live the life of our dreams is to activate the Law of Attraction. If this be the case, there are an awful lot of really shitty magicians in the world. Especially in developing countries. What’s up with you people, that you haven’t yet manifested a Keurig in every home?
But that’s not to say I think The Secret is 100% bullshit. No, I think it is only partial bullshit. Which is, frankly, a much more dangerous category of bullshit, because it’s sneaksy.
I do think there is merit to Will, for example. I believe we can actualize our strengths as humans, more than perhaps we thought we could, by analyzing our motives and reactions, and by observing what sort of results our actions bring us, and then adjusting accordingly to make more conscious choices. In this way, I do believe we can create our own reality, at least in part. So, I do believe in a “Law of Attraction” of sorts. If you cultivate yourself to be a responsible, inspiring, and low-drama person, you increase your chances of spending time in the company of other responsible, inspiring, and low-drama people. As these types of people tend to be more effective in the world, your chances of success also increase by being welcome in their company.
On the flip side, if you are a needy and manipulative person, and this goes unanalyzed, you are more likely to “attract” other needy and manipulative people, and will likely get trapped in a cycle of dysfunctional, and thus ineffective, relationships.
So yes, we do have a lot more command of creating our reality than we might think we do, by consciously cultivating who we want to be in the world, and endeavoring to heal any wounds that may be preventing us from doing so. However, we need to realize that we do this within a sea of limitations as well. We may have physical limitations, for example, and we most certainly have societal limitations that make it a lot easier for some to “create their own reality” than for others.
So, it ain’t quite as simple as “Opening to the Universe and all you desire will be given unto you.”
As I like to say, our Gods are not vending machines.
As for Gods; I do believe that Gods exist independently of our minds. I find relating to Gods as nothing more than archetypes in the human psyche deeply unsatisfying, and leads to solipsism, as far as I can tell. (Although solipsism as “knowledge of anything outside of one’s own mind is uncertain” – as opposed to “the world and other minds do not really exist” – is a valid position to consider, but that is a musing for a different day).
I find it useful to relate to Gods as autonomous beings, for the same reasons I find it useful to relate to my friends as having their own unique identities distinct from my own, even though we are told constantly that “We Are All One.” (Another oversimplified half-truth.) It reminds me that there are mightier forces in the Universe than my Self, glorious though that Self may be.
Also, it just feels most accurate. I can perceive these Beings more intricately when I relate to them as autonomous than I can when I think of them as part of my own psyche. (Note, I do not say that Gods “are” independent of my own psyche, but rather, “I perceive” them as such. I don’t, in fact, have any certainty at all about what Gods are. However, I also find I don’t need to in order to have meaningful relationships with them).
Nor does this perspective negate in any way Lon Milo DuQuette’s brilliant aphorism, “Why yes, it is all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head is.” Because it does appear that we interact with Gods through a sort of “Field of Consciousness,” for lack of a better description. If it weren’t for our ability to expand our consciousness beyond our usual modes of perception, we would not be able to perceive Gods at all. So, it seems we are capable of expanding our consciousness, if not infinitely, at least to a degree great enough to catch glimpses of what appear to be astonishingly vast patterns of Being. Our ability to flow into one another’s consciousness is what makes this possible. (We may not “All Be One” but we are certainly interconnected.)
In short, I believe the Gods have agency.
This puts me squarely in the Polytheist camp.
And yet, I do not serve as priest to any Gods, as do most of my Polytheist friends. I have not made pacts with Gods, nor have I signed on to do their work in the world. I am not a devotional polytheist so much as, well, a friend of certain Gods. Or, if that seems too presumptuous, perhaps an ally. For I see my relationships with my Gods as friendly alliances. I have not married any of them, nor joined their armies, but I do invite them over for drinks every so often. This seems to suit them fine, for they show up more often than not, and we have a grand time.
Are my relationships with my Gods less deep than, say, a Polytheist priest’s, who engages in daily practice and worship with their chosen Deities? Quite possibly. Who can say? I think the benefit of daily practice is felt far more on our human end. It is what keeps our channels open and fluid, that we may perceive Gods more readily. I am not convinced that my (roughly) monthly practice is in any way perceived as disrespectful by the Deities themselves. For a being who spans such vast swathes of time, and indeed likely does not perceive time the way we humans do at all, my guess is, it matters little.
Though it may matter little to a God how often I “call home,” wouldn’t I, for my own benefit, want to spend more time with the Gods, if I truly am a Polytheist, as I claim?
Well, yes, most certainly. I enjoy the experience of being in their company, and I feel more expansive after having done so. But in truth, my time is limited. Which is another way of saying, I have other priorities.
For I am also a Humanist Pagan. I have spent much of my time as a student of the occult on pursuits that could be thought of as “human magic.” Thelema and Chaos magic are both very human-centric. Through practices aimed at experiencing ourselves as the “Primordial Man,” uncovering our “True Will,” and the like, we seek the very flowering of human consciousness that enables us to come into resonance with the realms of the Gods. In other words, we can perceive the Gods because we are of the Gods. I believe it is the fruit of occult practice that accounts for our ability to have satisfying relationships with Gods.
I also believe we humans have our own destinies to fulfill, our own potential to explore and maximize, as individuals and as a collective species. These destinies are inherently independent of the destinies of Gods, although there is often overlap, which is why alliances between humans and Gods can be of great benefit. (Of course, alliances with Gods can also be detrimental if the agenda of the God is not compatible with the true nature of the human, which is why “Know Thyself” is such a powerful edict for those who would traverse the realms of the Gods.)
We humans have our own magic, our own ways in which we navigate the great expanses of time, psyche, collective consciousness, and we can learn to wield our gifts within these great arcs to best fulfill our potential. We can develop our human magic through applied self-awareness, discipline, and imagination in action, and thus increase our ability to shape not just our personal realities, but the greater realities of the world at large.
Much of what I describe here as “human magic” may not be perceived as magic at all, but simply effective, inspired human action. Why do we bring the word “magic” into it at all? I suspect it comes down to one’s predilection toward poetry, and what types of poetry one most likes to define their life by. For my part, I adore the twilight language of magic, which is at the heart of why I define myself as Pagan at all.
Because I perceive this entire big ole’ Universe as sentient. Alive. Some sort of animating principle heartily and relentlessly desires expression, apparently, for the Will to Life has continued inexhaustibly against impossible odds, forever.
And there I sound like a Pantheist.
So, what type of Pagan am I? I’ll take the lot! I’ll take the whole glorious, messy, imprecise jumble of ways in which we seek to interact with our Universe. Sometimes I perceive life as filled with vast patterns of consciousness not my own, and I call these patterns “Gods”. Other times, I go for extended periods not perceiving any Gods at all, but just an endless, pulsing undercurrent of aliveness, a flow of sorts, that I think of as Tao, or whatnot.
Always do I perceive the great, humbling, bewildering honor of being alive in this moment as a human being. What unimaginably mighty forces went into such a miracle made manifest!
For me, the only response remotely worthy of such an unutterably beautiful gift as that of being alive, is to celebrate that life to the utmost. To appreciate every moment for the awe-inducing experience that it is. I give my thanks by full immersion. I strive to see as much of this world I can, by traveling whenever possible. I offer my gratitude by making music and beauty and art, by loving as fearlessly as I can.
The values of celebration, beauty, art, love, and full immersion in this glorious world are all Pagan values.
What type of Pagan am I? This is not easy for me to answer. But what I can state with full confidence is this: I am completely, utterly, joyously, and unapologetically, a Pagan.