The Diversity of Unity
Article ID: 2391
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 6,793
Times Read: 8,935
Author: Diotima Mantineia [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: June 15th. 1999
Times Viewed: 8,935
Just about the only thing you can be certain of when you ask a Pagan for a definition of Paganism is that you will get a different answer from every Pagan you ask. So what ties us all together? What defines Paganism, what makes it different from, say, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism or Christianity? I don't pretend to answer that question here, but I offer, perhaps, some food for thought.
Ask around your local Pagan community, and you will probably find self-described Pagans who follow Buddhism's Eighfold Path, who celebrate both Passover and Samhain, who worship Lakshmi, Shiva or Parvati, and even some who also call themselves Christian Pagans, and see the story of Jesus as simply another variation on the theme of Goddess giving birth to He who is His own Father.
There are Witches and Druids, Norse Pagans and Wiccans, eclectics and traditionalists, Neo-Pagans, and a variety of others who all come together under the umbrella of the word "Pagan". They call themselves Pagan, and are accepted as such by others who call themselves Pagan, even though their beliefs might be very different. So different, in fact, that in some cases you have to work hard to find any points of similarity.
There are very few religions in which you will find this exceptionally wide range of beliefs. Some will say, because of this, that Paganism is not a religion at all. Perhaps. That really depends on how you define religion. But I believe that, through its diversity and wide ranging beliefs, the modern Pagan movement is boldly taking religion where religion has never gone before.
Pagans are questioning theological assumptions, redefining ritual and exploring spiritual techniques drawn from ancient religions, modern psychology and almost every religious tradition in between. We are exploring the spirit world with shamanic trance, casting circles in cyberspace and helping each other heal through the intense intimacy of a coven.
We ask the old gods for help, and also learn how to help ourselves through a wide variety of techniques including magick, meditation and visualization. We have an unparalleled (some would say regrettable) talent for syncretism, and cheerfully adopt the ideas and practices of other religions if we feel they fit within our world view.
However, despite the diversity of views and practices, there some common threads running through the varied belief systems of those of us who define ourselves as Pagan. Granted, few, if any, of these threads will stretch through the entire fabric of our community, but together they create the background of the tapestry that is Paganism today.
One of the first and longest threads in our tapestry is a deeply held respect for personal spiritual experience. We are mystics; most of us believe we can attain direct knowledge of Deity, of spiritual truth, of ultimate reality, through subjective experience.
Hence our love of ritual, our eager adoption of many shamanic and meditative techniques, and the emphasis we place on developing psychic abilities. We tend to pursue psychic development not only as a way to foretell the future, but also as a method of learning to access a level of consciousness where time and space are transcended and spiritual truths may be more accurately apprehended.
The idea that we can transcend time and space leads to another thread. This one is somewhat shorter, but nonetheless prominent in our community -- the thread of science .
Many Pagans are fascinated by both quantum mechanics and scientific studies on the nature of consciousness. We may not fully understand the details, but many of us believe that science will eventually "prove" what mystics have said for millennia; that we are all connected in a web of conscious energy that both permeates and transcends physical reality, and that time and space are, in the final analysis, an illusion.
Though we may dispute some of science's current conclusions, for the most part we respect it, and tend to look ahead to the future as enthusiastically as we look behind to the traditions of our ancestors. For example, I suspect no other religious group has embraced computer technology and the Internet with anywhere near the fervor of the Pagan community.
This sense of an ultimate unity of consciousness which binds all things together in the web of existence is also the basis of our reverence for the earth and for Nature. We know we are not separate from Nature, and the Gaia Hypothesis, which views the planet and all life upon it as part of a single organism, is one of the founding philosophies of modern Paganism.
Our pursuit of mystical truth has spun another thread in our tapestry -- polytheism. Many, if not most, of us consider ourselves polytheists. We don't adopt the beliefs of the ancient Norse, Greeks, Hindus or other polytheists unquestioningly; rather, we understand those beliefs because our personal experiences in the world of Spirit confirm them. We have met the gods and communed with them.
But our experiences also tend to confirm the conclusions of Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and other mystics who assert a Unity behind the apparent diversity of the physical world. Many of us feel we are all connected, somehow, in a web of being that stretches through all of physical reality and beyond. The gods themselves, some would say, are all part of a larger unity. The Gaia Hypothesis is just one example of this.
So we can find ourselves grappling with paradox. On the one hand, we celebrate diversity, are polytheistic, and will be among the first to defend each person's right to experience and worship Deity differently. On the other paw (as a Pagan friend of mine is fond of saying), many of us also believe in an underlying unity of consciousness. Hmmm......do we believe in one or many?
My personal belief is that the greater unity of Consciousness is so vast as to be essentially incomprehensible at our quite focused level of consciousness. I call this unity All That Is, or ATI. I believe that all consciousness, physical and non-physical, from that of the gods to a single electron, springs from this ultimate Source. All physical and non-physical reality is a manifestation of All That Is as well as part and parcel of it.
Assuming that ATI is the creator of, well, all that is, I look around this universe and ask "What does ATI seem to really value?" There are certainly a number of possible answers to that question, but close to the top of the list would have to be...diversity. In fact, this universe seems to be a wild and uninhibited celebration of the many different forms and focuses consciousness can take.
I believe every atom has a form of consciousness (as it must, if it is part of ATI), and the infinite diversity of ways in which atoms combine into molecules, crystalline structures, cells, organs, various life forms and other aspects of Creation is so dazzling that no one religion, no one point of view, could possibly do justice to the Creator of all this. And why should it? If ATI celebrates diversity, should we not return the favor by appreciating ATI in diverse ways?
Now, some of you may be wondering where, if anywhere, I fit the Lord and Lady into this cosmological view. Simple. I believe that, before anything we call Creation existed, ATI had to make that very first differentiation, the first split of consciousness that could look and say "I" and "Other". I believe this first differentiation of Consciousness is what formed the Lady and the Lord. So, when I light the candles on my altar at the beginning of ritual, I always say...
"The One became two, Lady and Lord. And when they touched, there was Light."
When I say that, I am worshipping the diversity of unity. I am worshipping as a Pagan, weaving my own thread into the colorful tapestry of today's Paganism.
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Bio: Diotima Mantineia is an eclectic Wiccan, a gardener, an astrologer and a Tarot reader. She has been blessed by Bast with four wonderful cats, andlives with them in the Washington, DC area.
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