This is a continuation of an article here. If you haven’t, you’ll want to read that one first.
Then there is the third way, which is a hard polytheism. There are numerous variations on this. Some feel that ALL the gods are real, every one that was ever out there by human agency and others. There is a softer version, informed by a subconscious platonism that even fictional beings fall into this category. The theory goes, whatever human agency came up with these powerful images must have perceived them on this invisible realm– then made visible in fiction. This is how you can get Jedi-ism (which ironically is also interfaces nicely with the second way) and people worshiping the elder gods of HP Lovecraft. YES, both of those things really exist. How serious they are varies by practitioner.
The second theory is that they have always been there. This could work, and generally implies that these beings made themselves. This explanation often refers to pagan mythologies and has some historical meat to it. Once again, I have little argument here, and wonder why more pagans haven’t looked into this. The mass market pagan books, outside of a few scholars (such as Isaac Bonewitz) , don’t really go there. Though most of those mythologies do say something about a deeper overarching creator god who made them. In the Greek cycle you get several iterations of this.
A number of people have opined that this idea “unknown God” idea was stolen from the Christians, the Jews (via contact through Aristotle), or maybe the Platonists and inserted into the system at a later date. The best example we have is Native American tribes have taken the creator god idea from the proliferation of widely traveled missionaries whose existence and impact remain curiously invisible to history. But it is unclear (based on possibly imperfect research) that this is true for the Greeks, as popular as this theory is. I think it is probable that it was a conclusion reached through reason– in a desire to avoid nihilism. I’m always in favor of that!
Others, seeing the infinite variety and incompatibility to a different place. They say that we make the gods because we need them, that power coalesces through our attention and gives us what we want– or can have. This is how magic works in this system, too.
Magic spells are different (at least traditionally) because the person is using his or herself to pull the magic out of the elements, with the power of will and with assistance of natural powers. Basically, it’s like pulling on the secret levers built into the universe to tilt the luck plane in your direction. They often use synchronicity and some references to Bell’s theorem to add a modern buzz to their mystique. Sure, the magic even works. Frequently, it did. But even by pagan standards there was a cost. And not the one you think, or often read about in stories. Stay tuned. I’ll be talking about this too. I’ll give you a hint, it’s the same cost that goes into all things that look good when livin’ is easy. I won’t mention brimstone in this context, either.
With the hard core polytheism, you propitiate the gods to get what you want, need and love. You use ritual to appeal and please them. You get magic by either propitiating the gods or by asking spirits to do your will. Though this has less mass appeal, it’s easier to figure out what to do when things go wrong. It’s also easier to predict that things could go wrong.
Others see ritual as a symbolic act to work on their own subconscious to work the magic behind the scenes. To be fair, aspects of this is interweaved into most systems, and we happen to know it is true in a sense. The human person needs concrete things to interface into the spiritual. Ritual is powerful and has metaphysical consequences. Human beings are fed by it, and need it. God knows this. This is why we Catholics are having a crisis of liturgy. Part of that crisis is that some of us believe this more than others. I’m an neopagan refugee. I peruse the Chant Cafe for a reason.
But it is the consequences of all this, the undiscussed end where all these pieces lead that is my gravest concern. You can have several combinations of the above threads and still wind up in the same place. Paganism is at it’s worst when life gives you lemmons. Magic means you know you can change your reality how you want. But this has social consequences when the magic just doesn’t work. This is wonderful until are faced with the dire fact that you have to save yourself when you have no more strength, will or power left to move forward.
You can be a stoic, and suffer for the glory, honor or dignity of man. Keep that up until you are through it, or break for the sake of honor. There is very little I can say to argue with this choice, save that I am not that strong. This is a noble course, a laudable course, but not the typical one.
Or… you can flee. People who wind up suffering more often than others tend to get abandoned as cursed. Worse yet, they’ll get accused of actively desiring the bad stuff that they have and making it happen to themselves for unknown ulterior motives. Yes, there are certainly willfully self destructive people out there. But they seem to enjoy their various issues more than the abandoned truly do. This to the point that it takes an expert to recognise them, who knows how to recognize the symptoms. There is often a brief moment at the end of such a person’s life where all is laid bare for his friends to see. The illusion is so powerful it negates the final act.
Folks will leave these sad few on the theory that he just has to ‘learn his lesson” and maybe they’ll come back after the trouble is over. Pagans are often big on second chances, but… beyond that, there is logic in preserving their own stability and sanity by fleeing the contagion. That abandoned person gets labeled as “negative” and harmful to the group, and the person is left alone.
It is an eminently rational position. It is enlightened and full of self esteem and self-preservation. The pagan culture is so saturated with residuals of Christian mores, that thankfully this doesn’t happen as often as it could. I encountered a great deal of charity while in the pagan community. That is worthy and one of the things that holds those tight knit communities together. If someone could find an acceptable mechanism for forgiveness, they could really make strides to building up a lasting community base. Yes, we Christians are poor practitioners in this area. At least we should know it is lacking. We should recognize the lasting value it has on a mundane level as well as it’s storehouse in Heaven.
To be fair, this practical sense of forgiveness does exist in that self-help contingent who are often healers and “lightworkers”. They are portrayed as holding themselves aloof from the rest– mostly because of the ugly accusations of being “too Christian”.