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Pagan Apologetics: Why We Believe
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Article ID: 14336
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Nepthys Agrippa
Posted: December 26th. 2010
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Growing up Roman Catholic, I spent a lot of my time being inundated with the Catechism, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and that wonderful branch of theology known as "Apologetics"--the attempt to systematically and thoroughly explain the faith of the Church to those who would ask "Why?" When I was in my early teens and first approached Wicca specifically and the occult in general, these questions didn't concern me. I accepted the Goddess and the God, magic, and the Wiccan Rede and called it a day. As I've grown older and wrapped my brain around a more mature mindset, I've started to question "Why?" Why is it so important to have a Goddess and a God? We don't really believe that Apollo and Dionysus are two independent beings (unless you're from specific traditions that do, in which case this article does NOT apply to you) , but rather two unique manifestations of the God.
And as I studied more and more I came to realize that, ultimately, the God and Goddess are merely two unique manifestations of an ultimately high and lofty, unknowable divine. Later reading confirmed that I was not the only one who believed this, and so I went back to my roots to seek out that wonderful branch of theology--Apologetics--and see what any writers had done in this field for Wicca. To my surprise, precious little could be found.
Ninety percent of everything I read was either written as a defense of Wicca in an attempt to ward off accusations of Satanism and baby-napping, and the rest were feeble attempts at creating a harmonious cosmology by cobbling together the writings of Gardner, Ravenwolf, and Cunningham. Obviously something has bound the faith together, and we are all aware of it, but what exactly is it? I decided to find out.
This detailed apologetic was originally posted (by me) on one of the many occult forums that exist. It received an icy reception, and I blame this on the ill choice of posting it to a forum-based community, partly, and also partly because I do not, myself, self-identify as Wiccan, though I am highly sympathetic to much of the beliefs of Wicca. So I decided to submit it here where a vibrant, mature, and well-informed community of dedicated Wiccans, Pagans, Witches, and Heathens had descended to make their voices heard and give feedback to each other. So without further delay, I present the slightly edited version of "An Attempt at Pagan Apologetics: Part I"
The Question of Deity
First of all, Wicca and most Neo-Pagan religions do recognize some aspect of deity. In general, aside from re-constructionist religions such as Asatru and Khemetism, these aspects take on strictly dualistic manifestations. Just as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Wicca recognizes deity as ultimately a creative force. Similar to the mystical Jewish idea that God is creation and entropy is destruction, Wiccans do not recognize a cognizant destructive force within their conception of the divine. Deity created the world, and it is a natural byproduct of the system that all life must, eventually, come to an end. Entropy is the agent of destruction, not an opposed divine entity. For a clearer representation of this basic idea, consider the following illustration:
The universe is a box. This box defies any physical or geometric restrictions and contains all space and time within it. It currently contains only light, but a light that is only light in the abstract. For this light to define itself, it requires an objective reference point. Having none, we can say concretely that there is nothing in the box (even though we know it is full of light) . The light, seeking an objective reference point, comes to a dead end everywhere it looks. What must it do to create its reference point? Withdraw a part of itself. By withdrawing, it leaves a void. Where there was once light, there is now darkness. This darkness does not have the creative intelligence of our metaphysical, hyper-intelligent light, but it serves as an objective reference point against which the light can assess its own qualities.
Extrapolate this idea further, and you can see quickly how the light by self-restriction is able to build and develop everything in the physical universe via further self-restricting qualities such as color and vibrancy. In this manner, by setting itself apart, it has not only defined itself, the light has defined and created everything in existence, but only through this necessarily entropic method. For this reason, Wiccans tend to think of deity in purely creative terms. While this deity may have destructive tendencies (as Hecate and other “moodier” goddesses will generally affirm) , their sole role in the universal order of things is a sort of creative benevolence. There is no deity opposed to them. Only entropy. And this is not even in opposition, but a complimentary aspect of creation. This complimentary dualism an accepted part of the Wiccan reality.
So we have established the first part of a Wiccan apologetic. 1. Deity exists and is creative, not destructive. There is no secondary deity opposed to it.
The second part of our apologetic is exploring the duality of the deity. Why do Wiccans worship a god and a goddess, and end up with a plethora of different statues from ancient religious pantheons to express their religious worship?
Polytheism or Pantheism?
Because deity created everything, deity ultimately is responsible for humankind. Be it a creationist style birth of man or evolution, there is an unmoved mover at the head of the chain of events that brought man into being. Because all of nature is reflective of deity, deity must be reflective of nature. In all aspects of nature there is a fundamental duality along the male/female divide, even where toads and slugs are capable of asexual reproduction. Why is this so? Ultimately, it is indicative of the “nature-as-a-mirror” conception of our relationship with the divine, and leads Wicca to a substantially sound reason to assume that deity likewise manifests as simultaneously male and female. This is not to say that deity is hermaphroditic, though I am sure there are those who believe this, but rather that whatever form deity has taken; it inherently maintains a male aspect and a female aspect that are inextricably linked to one another.
When a Wiccan addresses Dionysus and Venus in an attempt to work a love spell (more on that later) , he or she is not addressing a strictly Graeco-Roman conception of deity, but aspects of the abstract god/goddess pair that best epitomize the purpose of the spell. When a Wiccan addresses Dionysus and Venus in one spell, and then the Horned God and Brigid in another spell, the Wiccan is not acknowledging four independent deities with limited and restricted aspects, but one god and one goddess with infinite aspects. Ultimately, Wicca recognizes a singular deity that is manifest as the god and goddess uniquely separated yet uniform. Consider it a Wiccan's own trinitarian mystery. The reason behind choosing specific gods and goddesses is more a matter of focusing the intent of spellwork, and will have a more in-depth explanation later.
So we have established our second point of the Wiccan apologetic:
2.Deity manifests as male and female; they are separate yet one and are not restricted in their creative force (s) .
The Basic Building Blocks of the World
Following this train of logical analysis, it becomes apparent that the Wiccan worldview is not as eclectic as many would consider on first glance. It is not a cobbling together of ancient tradition (though much cobbling has occurred in its less-fundamental, more superficial accoutrement) , but rather is possessive of a worldview as structured and ordered as the best Neo-Platonist could conceive of for Christianity. So in exploring how deity ordered the world, Wicca does exactly what Plato and the Neo-Platonists did: break it down to its basic elements.
Plato illuminated four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Later authors added the ethereal ether that bound it all together. In a more chemistry-oriented understanding, these four basic elements are actually expressions of the four basic states of matter: solid, gas, plasma, and liquid. Ether has since gained the new moniker of “spirit, ” but the sentiment is essentially the same. It is without elemental quality, without material state, and binds the whole together.
These four basic elements compose the basis for worship of deity. Because Wicca recognizes nature as being a reflective expression of deity, ultimately deity resides in all the aspects of nature. Nature is therefore revered in the same way that a Christian or a Muslim would revere their creator god. But instead of supplicating and bowing down before the awesome power of a deity that exists outside of space and time, Wiccans walk and breathe and live side-by-side with their deity. For this reason, fundamental to worship is the idea of recognizing, appreciating, and ultimately welcoming the basic building blocks of their natural and divine environment. This is where the “calling the corners” and “casting a circle” elements of Wicca come into play.
Movies like “The Craft” ubiquitously incorporate these elements without much explanation as to why they exist. Most Wiccan writers take the casting of a circle for granted as part of the magical/religious practice of Wicca and tag on the associated aspects of “protection, ” “power, ” and “magical space” to explain the necessity of the circle. Ultimately, however, it is a way of making a clear doorway through which deity can manifest as something other than a piece of the natural environment and the Wiccan can commune directly with deity. For this reason, the basic elements are called separately in their associated corners, isolated, and hailed: “Hail to thee, guardians of the watchtowers of the West, creatures of Water, etc.” The watchtower is a metaphysical way of invoking the very real sense of protection associated with the circle. Just as deity is creative, magical practice tends towards the creative. But just as entropy is a necessary evil of nature, entropy exists within magical practice as well, and it is the intent of the Wiccan to not only isolate the elements in order to make a neutral working space through which to commune with deity, but to instruct those elements to keep watch while the Wiccan does their work.
3.Nature is composed of four elements: earth, air, fire, water; and a fifth element that binds the whole together: spirit. It is through these elements that the natural world can be understood and communion with deity becomes possible.
Worship and Spellcraft
Having achieved a sacred space, the Wiccan now has two tasks from which he or she may choose: a purely ceremonial worship of the god and goddess, or a specific magical task to pursue. The former is similar to any religious worship service. The deity is isolated outside the worshiper, and some form of sacrifice (bread, wine, wafer-thin plastic wheat bread, etc.) is offered in order that the deity might partake of and/or bless it for the benefit of the worshiper. In this process, the aspects of the deity are recognized, acknowledged, and praised. The magical task, or spell, is where similarity to other religious traditions ultimately stops. While many have said that spellcraft is similar to a prayer, it is fundamentally different in many respects, and it is this difference that makes it so peculiar and ultimately threatening to those who do not understand it.
Within the sacred space of the circle, the Wiccan may choose to not isolate deity and instead choose to focus on the deity within. It is here that focal points such as Dionysus and Venus are usually utilized, whereas in the former example, abstractions that usually take the names of “God/Goddess, Lord/Lady, etc.” are utilized. Here, however, a specific task is in order and specific abilities of the god and goddess are required. The focal point then requires a much more specific basis, and statuary symbolizing deities of old are utilized. But because the Wiccan does not supplicate his or her needs before deity and is instead self-empowered, the Wiccan takes on responsibility for their own needs and accepts the results thereof. Understanding that this explanation is heavy and contains two fundamental ideas, the author will address them separately for the benefit of the reader.
Magical practice is not a prayer in that the Wiccan is not asking for anything. The Wiccan demands. Being as much a part of the natural divinity of the world created by deity, the Wiccan maintains the divine aspects within him or herself that allow the four elements to magically defend the sacred space. The Wiccan will utilize focal points that resonate with specific requirements of the spellwork, chant words that not only carry the meaning of the desire of the spell but also become conducive to trance state, and project their desire into the world. This is also a bit more complex than the law of attraction where just thinking something will manifest it. Here the Wiccan not only thinks their desire but begins to manipulate the four basic elements in an attempt to make the desire manifest. Wicca is not passive at all in this regard, but is incredibly active. While a Catholic prays a rosary to empower the Virgin Mary to combat Satan, the Wiccan would, allegorically speaking, attack Satan head on. This difference is fundamental in the Wiccan worldview, and also in the Wiccan ethic.
Because the Wiccan is ultimately responsible for taking charge of their magical work and therefore their lives, the Wiccan does not recognize failure as being the fault of anyone but himself or herself. As has already been established, there is no deity apart from the creative deity to tempt mankind. Because the Wiccan does not supplicate him or herself before deity, any request that fails to materialize or materialize in a way that was less than expected is the fault of the Wiccan and not the fault of the deity. Any flaw within the Wiccan is ultimately the doing of the Wiccan, and any flaw in the Wiccan's conduct is ultimately their own. It is for this reason that the Law of Return is touted so often in Wiccan discussions.
I dislike the Law of Threefold Return, personally, but agree with the statement: “As it harms none, do as you will.” The Threefold Law is really only necessary if you start talking about utilizing the entropic elements of nature, in which case it contains a convenient warning: “All things sent out return threefold, ” meaning any misery you project will be heaped upon you three times over. Besides, even Christ told his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself, ” and this one statement is sufficient to build a utopian society upon. It's generally good advice to follow.
4.The sacred space is utilized for the active realization of the Wiccan faith and worldview; worship of the god and goddess and utilization of the basic elements of nature to achieve desired ends. All is done under a strict code of ethics, violation of which has its own nasty repercussions.
Up to now we have discussed very general, yet fundamental ideas of Wicca. Deity, natural order and harmony, worship and spellcraft. There are many more aspects of Wicca that include seasonal harmony, calendar cycles, reincarnation, etc. But the author believes this is a satisfactory introduction into an in-depth Wiccan apologetic, one that will hopefully begin to fill the void in a subject that is unfortunately severely lacking.
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