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Thread: An attempt at Pagan Apologetics, Part I

  1. #1
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    Default An attempt at Pagan Apologetics, Part I

    Apparently I registered here a while ago and never posted. Deary me. Well, here's something I've been working on.

    Please note: though I use the term "Wiccan" throughout this writeup, I do not self-identify as Wiccan. I am sympathetic to much of Wiccan theology (if such an inclusive term may be used), but it is ultimately my background as a Catholic that led me to think Wicca and Paganism in general needed better apologetics than "We aren't satanists. We don't eat babies. We are an earth-based religion." as 99.999% of pagan apologetics read exactly in that way. So, here is a hopefully better explanation.

    =======================================
    An Attempt at Pagan Apologetics
    An Essay in Two Parts


    Note about the author:
    The author does not self-identify as a Wiccan, though this essay almost exclusively uses the terms "Wicca" and "Wiccan". The reasons for this are his own, but much of the Wiccan theological base is sympathetic to the ideas maintained by Nepthys in his personal religious life and magical practice. Because of his background as a Catholic, Nepthys is very familiar with the voluminous writings of Catholic and other Western Christian apologeticists. It is this background that has led the author to perceive a distinct lack of serious apologetics in the neo-pagan community, and a desire to fill the void. The author hopes this apologetic essay is both informative and thought-provoking. The author makes no attempt to rationally justify or defend Gardnerian and other traditions' claims to Wicca being truly reflective of a pre-Christian pagan religion, nor does the author have any desire to explore such claims. This apologetic is an attempt to explain the religion as it exists today, its fundamental aspects and tenets, and it is up to the individual traditions that claim ancient heritage to substantiate those claims, a task that has, up to now, not been successfully fulfilled to the author's and most academicians' satisfaction.

    Part I

    Christians have been doing it for two thousand years. Buddhists have been doing it to a lesser extent for about the same time frame. And Muslims have been doing it since their religion was first attacked by those that disagreed with it. Apologetics, according to dictionary.com, is “1. the branch of theology concerned with the (defense)[spelling corrected by the author] and rational justification of Christianity, 2. a defensive method of argument.” Both of these definitions are lacking. For the purposes of this essay, the author's own definition will be used: “Apologetics, from the Greek apologia, is a theological argument in defense of a particular religious tradition or belief based in logic and reason.” Why is this necessary for something like Wicca? Well, because, to be honest, the majority of Wiccan apologetics out there is primarily a list of misinformation and what the individual authors have to offer in regards to education concerning why the list is not reflective of truth. This is not good apologetics. In this essay, the author will be establishing a theological groundwork from which to build on. Because Wiccans and most neo-pagans and witchy people in general do not have a scripture from which to glean revealed or inspired words of their god/goddess/deities, this will be a difficult task and will follow like a teleological argument. The author will try to refrain from utilizing ontological thinking, but makes no promises.

    First of all, Wicca and most neo-pagan religions do recognize some aspect of deity. In general, aside from reconstructionist 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 necessarily recognize a 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 their 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. It is simply 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?

    Firstly, 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 the Wiccan 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 Greco-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, the Wiccan 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).

    ...

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    ...(continued)

    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 accoutrements), 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, the Wiccan does exactly what Plato and the Neo-Platonists did: break it down to its basic elements.
    Plato illuminated four elements: earth, air, fire, 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, liquid. Ether has since gained the new monicker of “spirit,” but the sentiment is essentially the same. It is without elemental quality, without material state, and binds the whole together. For this reason, the pentagram often associated with Wicca and demonstrative of the five elemental dignities associated with Wicca is not a perversion and mockery of the old Christian pentagram representative of the five wounds of Christ as is often asserted. And it simultaneously holds a much deeper significance than many younger Wiccans take into account when they adorn themselves with the pentagram. Misinformation about Wicca abounds on both sides of the divide.
    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 breath 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 being 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.

    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. But because the Wiccan does not supplicate his or her needs before deity and is instead self-empowered by the fact that human beings are as part of the divinity of nature as anything else, 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 themselves. 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, calendrical cycles, reincarnation, etc. But the author believes this is a satisfactory introduction into an in-depth Wiccan apologetic, one that will hopefully fill the void in a subject that is unfortunately severely lacking.

    Part II of this apologetic exploration will explore these and many more ideas, and will be made available as soon as the author is able.

  3. #3
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    Default I totally get what you are doing....

    If the whole point of your efforts were to promote a more lively spirit connection to other souls and the earth, my word, just post a link to an Earth Wind & Fire or Isaac Hayes video. Most people can totally sense souls and spirits and liveliness in clouds, sky, other people, animals, and in almost everything else.

    Those people probably wouldn't even understand your overly logical and hyper-organized "polite" writing, which IS an apology.

    But what you are not taking responsibility for is the spirit under your suburban polite writing and thinking, and that is the over-organized civilized spirit that has lorded over the HOLOCAUST of many many Pagans (and Pagan means from the country, and was always meant to refer to country people or "savages"), the physical and spirit killing of MILLIONS and MILLIONS (far more than 6 million, by the way) of good old fashioned natural Pagans who lived in harmony with all the populated continents.... before...

    Before the emergence of Imperial People, who use language a lot like you do, my friend.

    Don't misinterpret me as trying to start a "fight," which is how Imperial Anti Pagans always respond to straight talk. Really think about it.

    Also, don't get overly "understanding" of Christianity and Judaism (and Islam), because all of these religions have been INSTRUMENTAL in snuffing out the physical and spiritual lives of many many millions and millions of people.

    It is not just the wars and witch hunts against Pagans, but also the steady and constant INTENT that these be (at least Christianity and Islam) religions of CHASTITY and REPRESSION, and the "well behaved" tenor of chastity and repression is the exact hyper organized polite outline medium tempo vibe you have infused in you "well reasoned" and "reasonable" writing.

    Think about it, and try to be honest about it, if you can.
    * * *


    I think real "occultists" know darn well that the so-called occult reality is the real obvious reality, bright and sunshiny, and that the so-called commonsense prosaic vision is the real occult.
    http://beyondoccult.weebly.com/

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    I appreciate your candor and your argument, but I think you misread and/or misunderstood the purpose of this essay. Not also that I am not trying to start a fight, nor did I read your post as trying to do so either.

    I am not advocating a simple closeness with other souls and the earth, else I would simply post a link to other authors and scholars who have done commendable work in promoting such ideas. The goal of this is to provide a concrete and very real understanding of the underlying foundational ideas in neo-paganism generally and Wicca specifically. Drawing on scholarly research by people like Aaron Leitch, it is my intent to explain the underlying mechanics and worldview that informs and influences neo-pagan traditions.

    This is not an apology, but an apologetic, a term which I define at the outset. If I were to pursue an apology, I would be forced to reconcile neo-paganism with one or more other religious/philosophical/theological traditions, and this is precisely not the point of this essay, and nowhere do I attempt to reconcile the two (though it can be done when you strip away the dogma surrounding Christianity and other similar traditions, especially when the pantheistic mysticism of early Christianity is discovered and explored in-depth). Passing references to Christianity or Jewish mysticism are there only to explain points that inherently have similarity, and only because 1) I grew up in such a tradition, and 2) regardless of what one has to say about the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is a tradition that has rigidly informed and influenced Western civilization and is an objective focal point most people who would read this are familiar with.

    In regard to the "burning times," I would advise you and anyone else to honestly research the history of the Inquisition and spread of Christianity with an open mind to what you read. The "burning times" spanned a period of several centuries and did not adversely affect the populations of any region of Europe as dearly as many would claim. Six to nine million deaths at the hand of the Church over a course of the period in question barely accounts for the deaths that were incurred in much shorter periods such as the Thirty Years' War, the Black Plague, etc. Additionally, the Inquisition was never charged with hunting down witches (witch burnings actually were only propagated by the Protestant churches, primarily in England and the New World) as the Inquisition could only arrest and try Catholics.

    As for the decimation of pagan peoples, I am sorry but that is a completely spurious claim. The early spread of the Church into northern, western, and central Europe was accompanied by a great deal of syncretism, which would be impossible if the Church was so hostile as many authors and yourself portray it to be. Compare the decimation of the Native Americans to the early pagan peoples of Europe and you see a very different picture. Wherever the Christians went in Europe, they adapted to and adopted countless local customs. What Christian church in North America shows such a degree of borrowing from Native Americans? The difference is that early Christianity was attempting to bring their truth to neighboring peoples, and in North America, Christianity was being outright imposed upon and used to exploit neighboring peoples. This "snuffing out" of which you speak is a fallacious argument that has not been substantially or rigorously defended by any serious scholarly research, and most research points to the same conclusions I illustrate above.

    As for the language being used in my essay, I will simply say that it reflects an academic bent and does not reflect any "imperialism" or inherent christian sympathies I may have. I would like to know by what standard you are judging the use of language in an essay such as this, and what exactly you mean with such terms as "Imperial people", as empires existed long before Christianity, and wars that could be termed as "imperial" were propagated amongst the pagan groups of northern and central Europe long before such terms were even used.

    I will caution, however, that to ignore other religious traditions, especially those that have been instrumental in the construction of Western civilization (no matter how deplorable that civilization may have become), is to treat them with the same spirit you are condemning.

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