Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Pagan Concepts Of Deity

Like with many things to do with Paganism, the pagan concept of deity is viewed in many different ways. Each person is going to have their own view of what "deity" entails. There are those that believe in many Gods (polytheism), everything is God (pantheism), God is immanent but also transcends the universe (panentheism), one Goddess and one God (duotheism), following one God even though excepting the existence of other Gods (Henotheism) and sometimes even that all Gods are one (Monism). With many different concepts of deity, it can quickly become confusing for someone who is not familiar with Pagan beliefs.

While some Pagan traditions have a distinct view of what their concept of deity is, I see many others that seem to take a more relaxed view and mix some of the above concepts to arrive at their total concept of deity. I know someone who states a belief in a more or less pantheistic viewpoint, yet concentrates on several Celtic deities as a way to connect to the symbolism of the divine. I've also seen articles on websites that seem to mix different theistic concepts.

To me, it seems that the most common "theism" to be associated with Pagan religions is polytheism, although there are others that are used frequently as well. Some definitions of the words Pagan or Paganism tend to include something to do with the concept of it being polytheistic in nature. An example of Pagan use of polytheism is when people use whole or parts of different pantheons such as those of Celtic or Roman cultures.

While Wicca has been associated with being a polytheistic religion, there are other people that have stated that it is a duotheist religion instead, bringing a fairly new concept into the limelight. Wicca's view of a God and a Goddess is duotheistic by this definition but I can also see how it can be viewed as a polytheistic concept as well due to the use of the trinity of the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. While the trinity is seen as different aspects of one Goddess, each aspect is sometimes identified as separate Goddesses.

Pantheism seems to be another common term used to describe Pagans today. It does seem to fit nicely within Paganism due to the widespread view of nature as sacred and as part of the divine. It is also sometimes used along with symbolic, but not literal, worship of Gods and Goddesses as in the example that I mentioned above. But it has not always been associated with Pagan religions according to this article on Pantheism and Paganism.

Sometime I think that critics use inconsistencies, including the different viewpoints of concepts of deity, against Pagans to "prove" that it is not a "real" religion. I have noticed that people frequently do express some of these ideas, especially when nature is involved, even if they don't express it as an idea of their concept of the divine. I see this aspect of Paganism as an asset because people are able to find a way that expresses their beliefs of the world in a way that connects them to the divine.


neosnoia said...

Great post. I'm a panentheist who sometimes lean towards pantheism on my pessimistic days. :-D Inside, though, I feel there is a universal mind that is out there and aware and distinct from us, as well as experiencing the material world through us.

Jeff Lilly said...

It's ironic that people would suggest that Paganism is not a "real" religion because there is less than complete agreement on the concept of diety. Christianity suffered from a similar crisis of ambiguity until the 1st Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It was not until then that "official" Christianity decided whether Jesus was the same being as the Lord, or another being made from the same substance ("another" God?), or what. Was Christianity not a "real" religion until that was decided?...
But it is the case, interestingly, that the ambiguity weakened the power and cohesiveness of the Church. I wonder whether the same is the case for modern Paganism? Would the Pagan movement be strengthened by having a more firm doctrine in this area?

Sojourner said...

Jeff -

That is just one of the arguments that I have seen. The people who are threatened by the rise in Pagan religions will use anything to get people to listen to them to "prove' how they are "right" and Paganism is "wrong."

The thing with having a firmer doctrine within the area of concept of deity is that there are so many Pagan religions to begin with, deciding on one (or even two) way(s) of representing the divine would dis-include others who identify themselves as Pagan. In a way, that is what the Council of Nicaea did to Christianity.

That is an interesting question - whether this ambiguity will weaken Paganism. While it is difficult to predict what will happen, I would like to think that it won't weaken Paganism as a whole. The reason - these are very different times.

We have communication systems that are more advanced, media that is more or less permanently archived, and more ability to publish our thoughts, beliefs and opinions. Not only do we have the ability for the above, but we also have the increasing freedom to do so.