Troy Camplin’s quip “I’ve always told people there are in fact 6 billion religions on earth” in a recent blog comment inspires this post.
When I first became a Witch I was bothered by the existence of ‘traditions’ considerably younger than I was. To make matters worse, it was within a NROOGD public Sabbat that I had my first and by far most powerful encounter with the Goddess. As I understand it, NROOGD emerged as fall-out from a Berkeley folklore course in the 60s.
And then there were the Discordians. It all seemed so . . . unserious. Why couldn’t we have serious theology like our Christian neighbors? (I was coming at this as a political theorist who’d invested a lot of energy in just that approach to my field.)
As I learned more about Paganism historically, I discovered almost a
universal lack of theology, from ancient Greece and Rome to modern
Brazilian African Diasporic traditions. What books were more like
books of shadows, with lessons on how to do something or other, than
philosophical treatises on the nature of Apollo or Iemanja. Such
studies existed, but never as a major part of Paganism. Pagans’
religious energies mostly went into ritual and practice.
Sallustius’s effort to encapsulate Classical Paganism, On the Gods, (translations differ) was commissioned by Emperor Julian as a reply
to the Christians. Had they not existed, such a book might never have
been written. Covens to which I belonged until my perpetual academic
moving would take me away always consisted of people who worked well together,
but our personal views as to what we were really doing would vary
Then there is Troy’s comment. More and more I suspect the same is true for many Christians, a variety covered up by their leaders’ focus on “getting it right”.
I think Troy may be on to something important. Once we get away from
some arbitrary claim that THIS is the only way to please God or
whatever, the universe of possibilities opens up immensely. And we
explore those possibilities and
My skin, my bones, my Heretic heart
Are my authority
Which itself has at least two wonderful versions, by Catherine Madsen and Holy Tannen.
Theology is an attempt to fit everyone else’s spiritual experiences and
realities into one’s own. Done in a spirit of good-hearted
playfulness, not taking one’s views too seriously, it probably does
considerable good. Enough people have similar experiences and thoughts
that it can help them develop their own thinking. But to accomplish
this it must never take on an authoritative tone. Better an attitude
of “this is the best I can do right now, take it for what worth you
find in it.”
I tell people when I think it is appropriate that my becoming a Pagan
and studying with shamans made me a better political scientist, because
now I do not take my views quite as seriously, and am more likely to be
interested in outlooks different from my own. Because I know the whole
picture is far more complex than I will ever understand.
Before, when I had a more secular outlook, I took my opinions far more
seriously, and I still have to watch it or I’ll fall back into bad
I think we should treat theology the same.