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From Christian to Pagan (Part I)
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Nietzschean Existential Panentheism
Article ID: 9773
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,359
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Author: RuneWolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: June 19th. 2005
Times Viewed: 4,851
Whilst mulching this past weekend – which can be a very meditative experience, when approached with the proper mindset – I had one of those little epiphanies. You know: the ones where all the disassociated, disharmonious, mutually-contradictory stuff that’s been rattling around in your brain-pan for the last umpteen days suddenly twists through one last synaptic contortion and – WHAM! – it all clicks into place, it all makes sense, it all seems to be so self-evident that you can’t imagine why you didn’t see it before.
Yeah, it’s like that…
I don’t really remember where all the threads started, but some of them are as old as the beginnings (in true earnest) of my spiritual journey, perhaps even as old as my personal search for self-identity. And some were no older than that morning, when I was ranting at a friend of mine about being the “Nietzschean superman of mulching…”
A number of my Pagan friends roll their eyes at my persistent and unending quest to define what I believe and practice, in the closely-associated realms of spirituality, religion and worldview-cum-philosophy of life. And, to be fair, some of it honestly has to be ascribed to low-level OCD. But I like to think the larger part of what drives me is the old saw that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I have very little patience with people who can’t articulate what they believe and why, and I extend that impatience to myself.
Now, I am not talking here about the difference between gnosis and logos, between intuition and intellect. Nor should the term “articulate” be considered a de facto synonym for “logical.” Direct experience, gnosis, is every bit as powerful – perhaps even more so – than logic, and it is often very hard to communicate to someone else. So when someone babbles incoherently about a true “spiritual experience, ” I consider that incoherency to be the truest “articulation” of that experience, because whatever it was probably made no more sense to that person than their attempts to describe it do to me. Hence, it is in fact a true communication of the experience. It is therefore completely valid to say “I don’t understand it, but I believe it.” It is equally valid to say, “I believe it because it sounds logical, and I just don’t have the time to test it.” But we must be self-aware in these beliefs and statements, people, and not simply buy into someone else’s “beliefs” because we find them sandwiched between glossy covers adorned with Day-Glo pentacles, or on websites with dancing fairy cursors. This “I believe it ‘cause I read it in a book/on a website” syndrome is tantamount to saying “I’m too lazy to think for myself.” But again – in fairness – I’m as guilty of that as the next person, from time to time. I’ve just given up berating myself because I don’t listen to a word I say anyway.
But I digress…
The point I was swinging wildly at up there is that, for me personally, I think it is important to be able to understand, express, articulate and/or communicate what I believe and why. I’m sure this has something to do with issues of insecurity and people-pleasing, but like so many of my other character defects, it does serve a somewhat useful purpose, in that I am driven to constantly challenge what I think I believe; to refine it, research it, confirm it and test it.
Oh – and in the midst of all of this, to name it. For as we Pagans know, to name a thing is to have power over it. And Goddess forbid my beliefs should have power over me, and not the other way around.
The point of all of this is that my brain spends a lot of what should be its downtime sorting, collating, examining and evaluating some of the chaff that accumulates in its hoppers, like computer geeks dumpster-diving at Intel to see if they’ve thrown out anything useful. And every once in a while, like the aforementioned geeks, my brain actually finds a couple of pieces that can be kluged together into a fair imitation of a Commodore 64. Then it can slap a label on it, stick it in the appropriate pigeonhole, and go on with the mental dumpster-diving. In my generous moments, I call this “ruminating.” (The fact that ruminating and ruminant – i.e “cow” – come from the same root is not lost on me, by the way…)
So there I was, mulching and ruminating, when the words “Nietzsche, ” “Existentialist” and “Panentheism” had something of a three-car-pile-up in my head.
My first reaction to this collision of apparently contradictory concepts – the logical reaction – was the mental equivalent of “What the…? Naw…can’t be…” And I would have happily scraped the tangled mass of scrap philosophy aside and started on the next rumination, had it not been for my pesky intuition, which perked up at the sound of the metaphysical fender-bender and went, “Wait! Stop! Go back…”
Now, I will be the first to admit that I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about Nietzschean philosophy or Existentialism – at least not right now – and what I think I know is probably wildly inaccurate. But minor details such as these have never stopped me before. I have, however, learned the power of “the right tool for the right job” – an invaluable concept when mulching. So when darkness closed in, I concluded that mulching with night-vision goggles on might distress the neighbors, and instead climbed on up to the computer room, with a leisurely and well-deserved hot shower along the way.
My beloved Internet oracle, www.dictonary.com, told me that F.W. Nietzsche apparently had a bit of a bone to pick with a certain mainstream monotheistic religion which shall remain nameless. He felt that this religion’s “emphasis on the afterlife makes its believers less able to cope with earthly life.” Well, I certainly know a few Pagans who would agree with that. And furthermore, my oracle said that Nietzsche believed that the fully-realized human being should “be able to channel passions creatively instead of suppressing them.” Again, something that I think rings true with most Neo-Pagans of my acquaintance.
So right off the bat, I’m thinking this Nietzsche guy might be worth investigating, and I’m feeling pretty good about shanghaiing his name – at least temporarily – for my latest exercise in metaphysical gymnastics.
Now, how about Existentialism? Well, the oracle defined that as:
“A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe…stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.”Ick. Well, semi-ick, anyway. I agree with “uniqueness, ” but not “isolation, ” at least not in the sense that I think the Existentialists originally meant it. (I seem to remember from high school that they were generally a gloomy lot…) As to “hostile or indifferent, ” well, I think “implacable” is a better description. The universe isn’t out to get me, but it has its own laws, its own cycles and patterns, and the hard truth is that those laws, cycles and patterns do not suspend or interrupt themselves so Wolfie won’t get crushed in an avalanche, if Wolfie happens to be in the path of one when it happens. (But when we start discussing the fundamental nature of the universe, we are edging toward that “Panentheism” thing, and it’s a bit early for that yet.)
The last part of the definition is a bit easier for Pagans in general to handle, as it once again resonates with ideals that a lot of us hold near and dear. That whole “consequences” thing is a bit ominous, but then we need to call an athame an athame, and not mince words – consequences are what we get when we screw up, plain and simple, and part of being a Pagan, in my book anyway, is recognizing that we do suffer consequences for our actions at times, and that when we do, we are responsible - not the universe, the Gods, our Significant Other or “The Devil” (even in those rare cases where the last two might seem to be the same entity from time to time).
What I’m getting at is that, as syncretic, paradoxical and contradictory as it might seem, “Nietzschean Existentialism” seems to have at least a thread of internal congruency.1 The Nietzschean influence tells us that we cannot look to the fanciful rewards of an afterlife that may or may not exist – we need to live life here and now, the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, the pleasant and the painful. We need to face life, not try to pray it or spell it away, and facing life means taking responsibility for our actions, and not trying to find a scapegoat on whom to hang the responsibility when “stuff happens, ” as it often will in an “implacable universe.” This, of course, leads right into the Existentialist part, again reinforcing the birthright and power of human freedom, choice and responsibility.
What then, of the “Panentheism?” My beloved oracle doesn’t let me down too often, but when I typed in that word, it gave me the TCP/IP version of a raspberry. But I didn’t make the word up, I swear. And there it was, right there where I left it on my alternate beloved oracle, www.google.com. Panentheism is a relatively new turn on a time-honored concept, but even some fairly hip Pagans of my acquaintance aren’t acquainted with the term.
At the risk of over-simplifying, pantheism holds that God/Goddess/Deity is the sum total of the entirely of the multi/universe. Or, as we Pagans would say, Deity is immanent in the phenomenal universe. PanENtheism holds that Deity is indeed the sum total of all that exists in the mult/universe, and something else, as well. Or, as we might phrase it: both immanent and transcendent.
All well and good, but what does this have to do with this so-called “Nietzschean Existentialism?” It is, in fact, the bend of the spiral that brings us back around to the beginning. While he might have meant something a bit different, Nietzsche basically said, “Thou art God/Goddess, ” and we make our own Summerland, our own Asgardr – or our own Helheimr – in the here and now of the phenomenal universe. We each possess a spark of the divine; even as we are subject to the physical and metaphysical laws of cause and effect that remind us – even if we choose to deny it in the moment – that we are responsible for our actions, and the results of those actions. We possess this divine spark because we are all part of the Divine, by virtue of our mere existence. And yet, when we pray, we are not praying to ourselves alone – Something, Someone much greater than even the totality of the universe listens…and quite often responds.
I imagine, after I’ve read my fill of both Nietzsche and Existentialism that I will realize how absurd my little whimsy has been. But it’s done its job, nonetheless. Anything that makes us stop, question, think and – above all – try to reach out and connect with others, was given us by the Gods.
It is not, in my experience, a good idea to maltreat or ignore Their gifts.
1. The view that Nietzsche may have been an “Existentialist before his time” is explored, in part, in this essay: http://www.friesian.com/existent.htm
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