WitchVox Community Essay Series for October 2001
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I would like to witness modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) mature as religion. Thus, I would like to see more materials on living the stages of life as a Pagan, Pagan morality and Pagan philosophy.
To that end, I wrote an essay several months ago which was published at the Witches' Voice ('Withersoever Our Lammas, ' http://www.witchvox.com/words/words_2001/seeds5.html ) in which I argued that unless modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) matures as religion, it runs the risk of devolving into a mere magic using subculture of eco-feminist-new-age-plus. I then suggested some means for averting that, specifically: by mining the riches of pagan religions of the east (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.) for concepts and models to tide us over till we evolve our own concepts and models.
Another way of viewing the same problemperhaps more positively but nonetheless accurately-- is an analogy to a baby. Modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) is in this form only 50 years old. Thus, as far as the maturity of religions is reckoned, modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) is young like a baby. And this baby has, so far, grown enough to eat, to cry, to poop, to crawl in various directions and to gaze in wonder at the mobile of fantastic shapes and colors which hangs above its crib. That's normal and good. But now, the baby is mature enough to start its next stage of development: learning how to walk. If the baby learns how to walk, it will be able (literally and figuratively) to take its next steps in its life and in fulfilling its destiny.
But walk to *where*? The Destination is Truth, and the path to Truth is living a fully human life in terms of Truth; and doing that is the Journey and the Destination. One of the most effective means of doing that is religion, but understanding that requires a little understanding of how religion functions and why.
In my opinion, religion is an anthropological phenomenon in other words, it is a human thing. And it is that human activity whereby people are related to each other and to the Sacredby and through and because of the Sacredand are thence related back unto the world. This is so, regardless of how the Sacred is understood atheistically, agnostically, or theistically (and the numerous varieties of theism: animism, polytheism, duotheism, monotheism, pantheism, panentheism, etc.) The Sacredwhich I do not here attempt to define since I think such a task is impossibleis that which causes in most of humanity (and to varying degrees) a sense of Fullness in their lives. Encounters with It are hallmarked (as the late Professor Rudolph Otto observed in his 'The Idea of the Holy') by three qualities: a sense of the numinous, a sense of awe and a sense of transformation of the person; this is so regardless of whether the encounter with the Sacred is dramatic or mundane. Hence, instead of focusing upon the Sacred, it is imperative in seeking an understanding of religion to focus upon the effects produced in people because of encountering the Sacred (whatever It is).
And those effects are best illustrated by the functions of religions. Religion functions (when it is functioning Truly and when it is not hijacked by power, politics, money, etc.) to provide a context, a meaning and the tools whereby people can live a fully human life precisely (religion asserts) when human life is lived in terms of the Sacred. Thus, miracles and allegations of miracles aside, religion is ultimately a mundane thing. It seeks to 'sacralize' (to make sacred) human life, in mundane as well as unusual moments. And that is done through religion's functions: providing a context and meaning and tools whereby people can live a fully human life in terms of the Sacred.
Put another way, then, religion functions Truly when it offers a means for people for making their human lives a Journey of Truth. And the Journey of Truthhuman life Truly lived because it is lived in terms of the Sacredis different from most journeys, which are journeys *to* something. In the Journey of Truth, the Destination encompasses the Journey.
But like any journey, there must be a starting point on the Journey of Truth. When expressed in religious terms, this starting point is a religion's 'hierophany.' Hierophany is the 50-cent word coined by the late scholar of religion, Mircea Eliade (see his 'The Sacred an the Profane') for an encounter with the Sacred. This is critical to understand when trying to understand a religion; it is analogous to understanding the family or household in which a baby grows up when trying to understand the baby and the adult that it may become.
The hierophany for modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) seems to me to be threefold: the sacredness of Nature, the sacredness of the Female as well as the Male, and the Immanence as well as the Transcendence of the Sacred. In short, the hierophany of modern Paganism (and thus of modern Witchcraft) is Nature, the Balance and Magic.
However, hierophany is not enough; it is a beginning, nothing more. In other words, a religion's hierophany is its *doorway* to Truth. A hierophany is the way Truth is encountered by a religion; hence, it always remains with a religion. Yet, a hierophanylike a doorwayonly fulfills its purpose if people *use* the doorway to pass through to what is on the other side of it. And what is on the other side of a religion's doorway to Truth is the Journey of Truth: which is living human life in that religion's terms of the Sacred.
Hence, modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) must pass through its doorway to Truth so that it can *live* human life in its terms of Truth. The hierophany is not abandoned, and the doorway is not lost; shifting focus from the doorway to Truth to living a human life of Truth does not mean giving up the very things which brought us to the Journey of Truth. For: on the Journey of Truth, the Destination encompasses the Journey. Nevertheless, the Journey must be *begun* by passing through the doorway to Truth *in order to* live human life in those very terms of Truth. And thus, modern Paganism (and modern Witchcraft) must collectively pass through its hierophany of Nature, the Balance and Magic so that it can *live* human life in its very terms of Truth (Nature, the Balance, Magic).
Now, human life contains many perennial issues, because mankind has not changed even though its circumstances and civilizations have changed over time. Hence, religion must address those perennial issues of human life. Specifically, a religion must offer the context, the meaning and the tools for living a human life in terms of the Sacred *precisely by* addressing the perennial issues of people in that religion's terms of the Sacred, i.e. in the terms of its hierophany.
Thus, modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) must address the perennial issues of human life in its Pagan terms of the Sacred, i.e., in terms of its Pagan hierophany: Nature, the Balance and Magic.
One set of those perennial issues of human life is simply the stages of human life. They are birth, childhood, puberty, adulthood, marriage / divorce, childrearing, old age and death. The stages of human life are the very stages whereupon the play of human life is enacted. Hence, it is imperative for any religion to address *how* to religiously live the stages of human life. Hence, it is imperative that modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) address living the stages of life, as a Pagan. A start has been made, but much more needs to be done. And hence, I think future writings on modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) must focus upon the stages of life as lived by modern Pagans (and thus by modern Witches).
Another set of perennial issues is morality. Some modern Pagans (and thus modern Witches) wince when they hear the term, perhaps because they associate it with power-over tendencies and techniques of certain other religions. Staying at that position, though, is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Morality is nothing more (and nothing less) than the principles of how people should behave towards one another because of their very humanity. It is not, therefore, a mere list of do's and don'ts. It is instead the attempt by people to identify, articulate and live those principles by which we can live with each other. It is human, not religious. But, religion really doesn't offer anything that isn't human; instead, religion takes human things and places them in the context, the meaning and with the tools to live human life fully, in terms of the Sacred. Hence, it is imperative that modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) take on the set of perennial issues of human life called morality: identifying, articulating and living the principles by which human beings can live with each other, because of their very humanity. Hence too, it is imperative for modern Pagans (and thus modern Witches) to do so in *Pagan* terms of the Sacred. Thus, addressing morality by modern Pagans (and thus modern Witches) must be *more* that magical ethics (or, especially, a rehashing of the Rede), and it must be *more* than just semi-consciously adapting the predominant Christian morals around us. We need, as modern Pagans (and thus as modern Witches), to state morality in *Pagan* terms. And that means we must think through morality in terms of the Pagan *hierophany*: in terms of Nature and in terms of the Balance and in terms of the Magic. We need, in short, to think through morality *not* on the basis of a monotheistic revelation and the culture built upon that but *instead* in terms of Natural Law as observed through the Interconnectedness of Allphysically, humanly, and metaphysically (i.e., in terms of Nature, the Balance and Magic)so that we Pagans know how to live, with ourselves and with others, as *Pagans.* Hence, I think that future writings on Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) must heavily focus upon Pagan morality.
A third set of perennial issues is simply trying to *understand* human life when lived in terms of the Sacred. *Why* is the question here, not just 'what' or 'how.' This faith seeking understanding is philosophy. (It is *not* necessarily theology: especially in pagan religions, theism and hence theology are optional and variable. Hence, it is philosophy that becomesespecially in pagan religionsthe vehicle for seeking understanding of a faith that is not necessarily *theistic* but which is usually somehow *monistic.*) And philosophy is not supposed to be an impenetrable forest of words. Philosophy is supposed to be a garden for cultivating an understanding of Truth. And that cultivation is not undertaken solely for its own sake. Rather, cultivating an understanding of Truth is to better enable people to *live* their human lives in Truth. Before, during and after the stages of life, the morality of life, and the million and one other things composing human life -- there is the *living* of human life. Philosophy is no substitute for living human life, but philosophy can and must act as a *guide* for living human life. Philosophy is thus like a road-sign: it is neither the Journey nor the Destination; it merely points to them; but like a road sign, philosophy thus better enables people to find and walk the Journey of Truth, on which the Destination encompasses the Journey. *That* is the task of philosophy: answering the *why* behind the what, so as to better enable people to *live* the what, so as to better fulfill the destiny of those moments and the lifetimes which they compose. And that is *especially* the task before modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft): most if its members are too monistic to be monotheistic and too Western to be Eastern, and they therefore need an understanding of Truth that is both monistic in essence and Western in formso that they are better enabled to live a life of Truth in Pagan terms of essence and form. Hence, I strongly think Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) must articulate its own philosophy.
I wrote above that Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) is like a baby that is learning to walk on its own two Pagan feet. As such, it must learn to shift its focus away from its hierophany, its doorway to Truth, and to instead focus on what the doorway leads to: living a fully human life in Pagan terms of the Sacred. That means (among other things) that future writings by modern Pagans (and thus modern Witches) must focus upon the stages of human life and the morality of human life and a philosophy for human life, all in Pagan terms. By doing so, Baby Paganism will not only learn to walk on its own two Pagan feet; it will also thereby take its first steps through and *past* its doorway to Truth. Baby Paganism will thus collectively take it first steps on the Journey of Truth -through the territory of fully living human life in Pagan terms. If Baby Paganism *fails* to learn how to walk on its own two Pagan feet, if it *fails* thence and thereby to go through and beyond its doorway to Truthcomposed of the two posts and a lintel of Nature, the Balance and MagicBaby Paganism will never mature and grow into its next stage of life; it will become a cripple or a corpse of its potential destiny; it will become a mere magic using subculture of eco-feminist-new-age-plus. But, if Baby Paganism does learn to walk and does thereby pass through its doorway to Truth, Baby Paganism will no longer be a baby, and it will collectively discover a grown-up fact: when we pass through the doorway to Truth, to living a human life of Truth, we come (along the way and at the way's end) to Truth again. On the path of Truth, the Destination encompasses the Journey. But, to walk that path requires shoes for the territory (the stages of life) and rules of the road (morality) and a map of the Journey (philosophy). Hence, for modern Paganism (and thus modern Witchcraft) to mature as religion, it must focus itself (and thus its writings) on going through its hierophany and to the Journey of Truth: living a fully human life in Pagan terms of the Sacred. And that means focusing upon living the stages of life as a Pagan, Pagan morality and Pagan philosophy.
Bio: John is a Witch who is greatly influenced by Hinduism. He is presently 1) convalescing from an illness, 2) planning on restarting his law practice when he is well, and 3) is composing a proposed philosophy for modern Witchcraft. When it's done, it will be available for free at his website: John's Pagan Pages (http://wiccans.com/host/john_littlew/index.htm ).
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