Monday, 19 October 2009

Time To Take Stock

We are living through a period of history that humanity has never encountered before. The world has opened up to us in incredible ways so that although we may never visit Lhasa we know what the temples at the top of the world look like, what sounds come from them, how the people who live in and around them dress and eat and work. We have some concept of the preciousness of the rainforests and the creatures who live with it, we know that we too live with the rainforests because we understand that climate is partly regulated by them. The horrors of war are revealed where in the past they could be denied or minimized. The realities of child labour, animal experimentation and other abuses, and all other miserable realities have been brought into our living rooms at the same time as miracles of health, travel, personal opportunity, semi-democratized knowledge, and choice have blossomed.

Everything is possible at the same time as we are being told that the world is on the brink of collapse. The places where Paganism has best flourished – the UK and US - have never experienced such freedom and comfort. We no longer depend on the opinions of popes and princes to tell us our place in the world, we’re not conscripted into industrial war machines, death doesn’t have such a consuming affect on our lives and we can chose whichever version of the afterlife best suits our desires.

Modern Pagans look to the past as a source of inspiration but we ignore the flea ridden, half-starved, freezing gloom of an average European family home pre-electricity. Most other religions look to an existence beyond earthly life for good reason, experiencing earthly life as something to endure, their Deity being somewhere other than where they are. Most Pagans who have a concept of Deity understand that Deity to be immanent, present in ourselves and in all things and I believe this is significant for Pagan practice.

All other religions make sense of the world through an understanding of Deity, and so has Paganism. When Crowley, Gardner and Valiente introduced the concept of a female Deity it was beyond radical and had serious material effects. Why do Pagans claim to care so much about the planet? Initially, because we understood the planet to be a manifestation of the Goddess. We’ve absorbed animist spirituality and as well as immanence it gives us the concept of genius loci. So we have some vague thoughts about what and who and how Deity might be.

Animism, a product of belief in immanence, has important effects on our practice. If everything is alive and in relationship then what responsibilities do we have for each other? Do rocks and birds have responsibilities towards us, and if not, what makes us believe we are so unique that only we have responsibilities towards other beings?

It seems to me that there are two things fundamental to justifying our ways of being in the world: the ways in which we understand power, and the narratives we tell ourselves. If we believe the narrative of original sin, or that suffering makes us more like Jesus, or of the gifts that Kali gives us then this will effect how we feel about each other, the world and ourselves. The manner in which we live these beliefs will be affected by our understanding of the use of power.

From the dawn of human consciousness people have been struggling with all of this and I see no need to reinvent the wheel, we can use the structures created by others to gain greater understanding of who we are. Where they don’t fit us then we surely have the intelligence and imagination to create our own. But create them we must. The Unitarians, who also avoid dogma, embrace and live within an ethical code. Are Pagans dressed up Unitarians? If we’re not we need to run to catch up with the rest of the world if we expect to be respected by it.

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