The Pagan Mindset (*) Part I

By Illustration from: Rodolfo Lanciani: Pagan and christian Rome, Boston and New York 1892. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Warning to a friend: This will cover some obvious things you already know. But I develop it anyway, so as to demonstrate the appeals from the perspective of the modern approach.

Saying the anything, as if daring to proclaim a definitive, used to get my dander up. It seemed unfair. How could you talk about anything as being definitive? It seemed to deny the endless variety of what is out there and available.  What I did not understand is that everything also has an essence, that is,  a set of qualities that define what it is at it’s heart. Or said in another way, a shared set of qualities that define a thing as a member of a set.

All human beings are different, like snowflakes. But we are all alike, like snow.  If you were to look close up at a snowflake you would see that they are not uniformly white. Some of them are brownish, gray, clear, or a kind of ice blue. But stacked up all together and reflecting light in the same direction, they demonstrate that snow is white.   This concept offended me, even as I continued to use it as a base assumption for pretty much everything. It is hard to operate as a human being without it.

Being upset by examinations of this sameness is a sign that one is slipping –or as fallen– into Relativism.  Because Relativism denies Realism, they often feel they are more realistic, being flexible and able to change with the times.  But there are many things that benefit from stiffness, from solidity, from firmness.

Modern progress only defines itself by dissecting it’s target until it is rendered meaningless. It sketches out movements supported by hazy feelings, then proceeds to shred whatever real evidence there may be. It does not think very clearly about the destination. Because movement is the goal, as well as the intention. But it offers nothing of itself, has no solution, merely the outrage based on a universal problem.

 Gray goo is the mindset of the formless sea of modernity. To understand this is to understand where paganism gets it’s appeal.  After all, people want goals. They desire the real, they want values because they are wired that way. People, being difficult, want goals and a destination.  It is not enough to only wander. 

By Uploader. (Own work (Own picture).) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Uploader. (Own work (Own picture).) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Trouble is, you can’t admit this in public… so you drift into equally vague spiritualities, knowing that there is something interesting out there, somewhere. None dare call it truth, but people do admit they want to connect with something. Something real. Something that builds, something that defines. ‘Union with the Absolute’, though replaced with trendier yet similar catch phrases. Though this one works pretty well for our purposes.    All sorts of expansive talk, and it is hard to discern a meaning.  The vaguer the better, it seems. There is only one place to start in a formless landscape, and that is with proximity.

Because you have to go through the Christian ideal– a pitiful watered down parody, with a bearded God who sits on a throne in the fluffy clouds and smiles down on his people. Then you are disappointed because praying for goods and needs “doesn’t work”.  Somehow, Mick Jagger has left the building. (Repeat after me: “You can’t always get what you want…”) The heart is crushed when a loving, wonderful person suffers and dies. Santa Claus is discovered to be a sideshow barker for the sales industrial complex– a phantom, a lie. Largely because he is a  distorted and watered down portrait of a saint. This being a concept that a large chunk of the Santa Claus parents don’t believe in anyway.

395px-Scheme_of_things1475

Once you have scaled those peaks, you have to get back down again.  A nice bitterness based on past disappointments keeps you focused.  Then you discover relativism means you can do whatever you want without old bearded grumpypants getting angry.  You find yourself threatened with feeding pigs for the price of a handful of feed, and lo, you’d even think longingly of your childhood home.  This seems absurd. How on earth could flimsy unreal things like ideas destroy the solid comfort of a good family, a store of treasure, and good friends? Sooner or later, you discover you don’t even need to waste your resources or leave home to find yourself bereft and empty.

It all just seems so meaningless in the mush of secular relativity.  You look for an out, a way of expressing those ineffable somethings that you experience in life– even as you suffer the school of hard knocks. You wince as the materialist decries those sacred moments as less than fiction and worse than insanity. You long for the world to talk to you, the spirit to breathe and move you. You hope in the woods at the stroke of midnight that something might be true.

Mountain_Hemlock

Then, at the breach of dawn, you dare to hope that the world is real. and it’s peopled with mysterious beings who dwell beneath the forbidding dome of grumpypants sky. Hey. Maybe mr. grumpypants was all a dream. Maybe these beings– who live by different rules than we do– are more real than he. Perhaps magic is not a lie. You are so distracted by this thought that it never occurs to you that the atheists are right about one thing. Mr. grumpypants does not exist, any more than a super-sentient pile of spaghetti. The Christian truth is far more complex, but it far easier to kick at a figment than contemplate the real thing.

What are these beings? Could all of the ancient peoples have been irreparably isane? What are they like? What are these stories about? What do they tell us?  You read some mythology, but are frankly a little put off at first. They have fights like us. They argue like us, but their powers are wider, but more specialized.  Looking around, it does seem like a world built by committee, right? Things always fall between the cracks.

NO one will admit this, but it sits at the base of your skull as a satisfying explanation.  Then other ideas well to the surface. All bad that happens seems to come from other people. Maybe we just invented it, because we don’t know how special we are, we don’t know how blessed? Well, yes, this truth is out there, but to say that we are all the end and summit of anything evil has certain…consequences that come back to bite you later.

For now, all is bright and new, made to mysterious purpose. The world comes alive again, because it all hints to where you fit in this world. The dance of life is the call of nature, and we dwell in the classroom of the gods. This is lovely in the Disney Edition of Nature. Sure, Bambi’s mother dies once in a while, but her sacrifice is the start of a great adventure, and the finding of new friends.  There is something that is always missing, though. Even with infinite variety no one god seems to be quite the right fit. So we wander to find it.

What is interesting about all this is that the idea of all of nature being an expression of the love of the gods is not a pagan idea at all– but a Judeo Christian idea. Yet it is all made new, once names despised are filed off to make way for jubilant laxity. There is a thread of the pipes of pan in this song. The joy of Pan’s vine was the joy in annihilation, of being devoured by the god Pan–the man subsumed by his animal nature. That’s why the bacchi ripped their victims apart with their bare hands. That was Pan’s idea of evangelization– sharing the joy of his blessed destruction.  Pan and Shiva have a lot in common.

But we play on the edges of this awareness, to gradually wear down our old habits and live a life free from the concept of sin and judgement.

By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At the base of it, there are only three ways to be a neo-pagan. There’s the soft atheists who want to have better parties,  more satisfying stories and ritual to pass on. Then they discover the special blessing of a seemingly irrational joy. This gifts them with more colorful language– a nice dollop of Jungian mysticism. It’s a psychology for the inner self, boiling down to self-worship using archetypes. The ultimate spiritual reality of this reminds me of the mechanics of Unknown Armies, the RPG.

This is not far different from those who believe of a higher power as a great force, with any reference to god being a metaphor. We use shells and gods as an operating system to interface with the force for life in the Universe. It may operate as a person, but only for our benefit, donning whatever mask suits it’s purpose.

You pick a mask, plug in, and it all just works, right out of the box.  It is not explained why all of these different systems may contradict each other, with sometimes violent consequences.  It is thought that this is a fruit of our own weakness or perhaps some kind of misinterpretation that we inserted for our own benefit.  This is a good argument. But if each person has a tailored religion and ethic for himself and no other– how can we ever tell the difference between this positive force and our own selfish desires? IF there is an objective evil lurking out there, the messy quest for truth becomes that much harder.

By Malcolm Lidbury (aka Pinkpasty) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, this is not the case. Perhaps Evil is comes from us not knowing how awesome we really are. It is true in a sense, that is, we forget who we are.  Often we forget that we aren’t at the top of the metaphysical pyramid. This forgetfulness feels good, and is useful. It can seem empowering, gratifying and even like the ultimate secret.  Lots of organizations make money off of this idea. So if this idea is the sum-all of empowerment, why is it we need so much coaching to get there?

You can have all the knowledge in the world, but still be confused by whether or not what you do is for the good– or even what’s best for yours in the mirror.  Then we say that the TRUE desires of our heart are what this god wants for us, and everything else is false. Um, I often can’t figure out what I want for lunch on a consistent basis. How do I know that what I want right now is REALLY true?    There isn’t really an answer save some amusing zen koans. Beyond those, there is subtext about creating your own reality, and lo you are back to solipsism again.  This is a very lonely place, and in our darker moments we can’t even believe that.  Peace love and rock ‘n roll will surely save us from ourselves.  Pause and reflect on the lives of many very famous rock musicians. Well, maybe not.

In part two, we will examine the path of various dimensions of hard theism, polytheism and pantheism.  Depending on how that goes, there will be a third part or a coda here that sums the matter up in a smaller package.

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