What A Pagan Believes
by Ian R Thorpe
When I say I'm a pagan people get all sorts of weird ideas about what I get up to. There isn't much to it really, being a pagan is something you can do at home or in your garden
1 November 2008
Its that time of year again when as a good pagan I should be recovering from my naked romp over Pendle Hill where on Halloween night we meet to cavort around under the stars, calling the fiends of hell up to our physical dimension. Or so I am led to believe by certain Christians. I've never gone in much for devils and demons and November is not the time of year anybody in their right mind wouls want to be running around skyclad on a hill as far north as Pendle.
Now while the noisy variety of Christians know bugger (oops, strike that out, it's an unfortunate word to use in connection with Evangelical preachers given all the recent reports of incidents involving choirboys) let's say damn all about Paganism, this doesn't stop them pronouncing or pontificating on "the old religion" I do know a little about Christianity, for example I know one of the big ten points is "Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbour." For the benefit of Christians who cannot get their heads round seventeenth century grammar that means you mustn't tell lies or make up stories about other people that aren't true just to get them into trouble.
Now if somebody was to say "oh that Ian Thorpe, he's a bad lot, he's had more women than I've had hot dinners," that would also not be true - I've had a lot of hot dinners, but I would not mind you saying so as it might enhance my reputation as a loveable rascal. On the other hand if someone said "Steer clear of Ian Thorpe, he is evil, he worships the devil" that would offend me because although I am pagan in my beliefs I, like other pagans do not actually believe in the devil. Satan, Beelzebub, Moloch, Azazel, pick any you like, I do not believe in them. Mammon I will admit is evil - but hang on, a lot of Christians worship Mammon don't they, you know the ones I mean - those who say the richer you get the more it shows God loves you.
Quite recently I have also been told by a Christian of the religious right tendency that I am a wiccan (I'm not!) and therefore a paedophile. The same person also announced to the world in a comment on one of my articles that Islam is an evil religion because Mohammed was a paedophile. Oh well its quite nice to know they don't just tell lies about my religion. Perhaps we are all paedos except those fundamentalist preachers whoare being convicted of buggering choirboys so regularly. Such leaps of logic are quite surreal of course but entirely consistent with fundamentalist religion. Well if that is how reading The Bible warps peoples' brains I'm glad my family were humanists
While it is true that Mohammed did marry a girl we would now consider "underage" you have to remember that was then and this is now. In the culture of the Middle East from probably around 2000BC to 1000AD it was customary to marry girls off as soon at the onset of the menarche (when their periods start - oops, I shouldn't mention periods which are sinful or Chritians will be sure I'm the spawn of Satan). This was to stop them getting a bun in the oven with some horny goat herd, thus rendering them less marriageable and saddling their dad with an extra mouth to feed. So everybody married girls we would consider underage, even those Biblical good guys David and Solomon.
Matilda, daughter of King Henry I of England (born 1102) was married to King Henri V of France in 1114. Nobody batted an eyelid. Matilda's daughter in law, Eleanor of Aquitane, was married to Louis VII of France when she was only fourteen. Inbreeding with very young blood relatives? It seems to me a lot of people in the Bible Belt would have been right at home in Medieval Europe. But as I said that was back then.
The various pagan traditions are not about marriage and property, the underlying philosophy is about wisdom, understanding, choice and celebrating our humanity, living in harmony with each other and about compassion and and a sense of community. Novelist Terry Pratchett summed it up well in his book "A Hatful of Sky," when he has Granny Weatherwax define a witch as " someone whose view of things is not clouded by convention or superstition, someone who can see what is really going on and make sure whatever needs to be done to solve the problem gets done." Granny Weatherwax then goes on to point out the importance of superstition by telling her apprentice," Remember when Sam Barnfather's children kept getting sickly stomachs?"
"Yes, you told him there were evil spirits in the well but there weren't because evil spirits are superstition, it was a trick."
"A necessary trick," Granny said, "you see if'n I'd told Sam the old well was too close to the privvy he'd say; what do you know about digging wells, you're just a silly old woman: but Sam is sure witches knows about evil spirits, so if I tell him there's an evil spirit in his well he'll get straight on the job: people can often understand stories but they can't understand common sense."
And so it is with paganism, its just practical common sense that fearful people attach stories to because their preachers have told them problems are caused by evil forces. Get to know any pagans of the type that cast spells and they will tell you that when a spell is cast, if whatever is asked for is meant to happen then it will. In other words, don't waste your life wishing for magic and miracles, take the hand life deals you and play it the best you can.
Now what does a pagan believe. Well anything we want to really, I believe in King Arthur, Robin Hood, Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster and Jenny Greenteeth. But if anybody told me these are literal truths because they are all written in ancient texts I would say "don't be ridiculous." King Arthur and Robin Hood are two representations of the sense of place that binds England as a community rather that its simply being a political entity or a geographical location, Big Foot, Loch Ness Monster and other lake or forest monsters around the world remind us that nature still has many secrets and Jenny Greenteeth, well after their Grandma told my kids if they played near water Jenny, a water spirit, would pull them in they were both very keen to learn to swim. So Jenny serves a useful purpose.
Many pagans like to meet and perform nature rituals, especially at the calendar festivals, the equinoxes and solstices, but it is not organised in any way and the nature of the rituals varies widely. My own preference is simply to keep my garden in good order, slightly wild, not too neat and well trimmed but a place that welcomes insects, birds and other small wildlife and to get out into the country and enjoy the hills, moors, woods and streams as often as I can. Just doing that puts wars and politics and economic problems in perspective. The world will still be orbiting the sun and the seasons will still be changing long after the human race is gone.
If you want to bring a paganistic approach to your life, celebrate learning, wisdom and harmony, accept that education is a lifelong process. Think simply in terms of "us," rather than "us and them;" we are after all the only hope we have.
It is true that, as I have mentioned, some pagans perform spells. The hysteria this generates among the more nervous Christians is a standing joke really. Spells, potions, enchantments are simply ways of focusing. Its like cosmic ordering or Kabbalah only you don't have to buy overpriced books or bits of string. Actually whatever spell a witch casts comes with a warning, "if it is meant to be it will be, if it is not meant to be, better that it does not come to pass." If you really want something and it is right for you, you will find a way to make it happen. Burning a few herbs and essences in a crucible might help somebody focus on what they really want, but it is the self - belief, self knowledge and effort invested that will make things happen. And there lies the barrier between Chistianity and pagan, Hindu, Buddhist and other more enlightened belief systems. Christianity is about self - denial and self - abasement, an enlightened belief system is about self - dicovery and self - esteem.
I have at times been accused of posessing healing powers. I say accused because it is not something I welcome. Once there is talk of healing powers people start looking for miracles. All I have done is improve people's self esteem. The rest they do themselves.
What of pagan gods then you ask, do they not do requests? Are they false gods who should be avoided. After all you will have heard numerous warnings to steer clear of "false gods." But is not Jehovah, the God who has to be personified as a likeness of a human the false god, the synthetic god? The original Jehovah was simply a sun god like Ormazd, Zeus, Dis, Saturn, Ra, Dagda, Odin and so many others. If you do not believe me take a look at the first chapter of Ezekiel in which the heavenly chariot is described. The four wheels and the wheels within wheels that drive them are an allegory of the earth and moon (there are four wheels because the Hermetic Jews at this time had a calendar based on a four year cycle) and the creatures that form the spokes of the wheels are the seasons, each with its seasonal symbol. And what is at the centre of each wheel? The sun of course. This mystification of the calendar shows that the pre - Romanic jews were in reality pagans (Hermetic Jews = devotees of Hermes). Really the modern Jewish religion is as much an invention of the Roman Empire as modern Christianity. What all the Abrahamic religions do have in common however is an obsession with death and how we might cheat it.
Paganism however is about renewal, regeneration and responsibility. While the Abrahamic religions glorify selfishness because the objective of life is to earn enough brownie points to get you into the kingdom of heaven, a pagan believes that we simply hold the world in trust for future generations.
Will our children thank us more if we leave a viable eco - system and an economic structure that is self regenerating so that they can live well and happily and pass on the same bequest to the generations that succeed them, or if we leave a ruined, poisoned, dying planet and a note that reads "we put our faith in God and those who spoke on his behalf." Well if we do the latter, when the next busload of Thetans land in a million years or so, at least they will have a good laugh at our stupidity.
There are two branches of Pagan learning. Witches or Wiccans (it means "wise woman", nothing more) usually women, though there are men, who study the healing tradition. A little research shows that such wise women, village healers, have much in common across many cultures from India to Britain westwards and to the Americas eastwards. Wicca is nothing to do with evil, many of the herbal cures have been adapted to modern medicine. If I was to recommend willow bark tea for persistent headaches or a fever people might scoff at this ancient remedy yet the drug aspirin which most of us have benefited from at some time is derived from the bark of willow trees.
The other branch of pagan learning is Druidism. Druids are portrayed as evil, bloodthirsty priests but this is another Christian calumny. There is no evidence whatsoever that Druids practiced human sacrifice and what writings have come down from their contemporaries including the Roman Emperors Julius Caesar and Claudius describes the Druidic culture as highly civilised. Julius Caesar marvelled at their skills in astronomy, mathematics, healing, the arts: all fields in which he found them superior to Rome at the time.
There were three categories of Druids; the Bards - poets, musicians, artists and historians; Ovates - healers and surgeons and the Druids themselves - teachers, scholars, philosophers. It should be noted, because early Christian scholars were educated in the Druidic tradition, that Bardic historians recorded not detailed factual histories but a very allegorical version of events. This usually brings sneers from modern commentators who aren't as smart as they like to think, but the point is that the Druids were not and never claimed to be clairvoyants. They did not foresee the end of their culture and in their culture every educated person understood those allegories. They told the essential truth rather than losing it in fussy detail.
Another point worth noting is that Druidic astronomy was so advanced they knew of the phenomenon known as the Precession Of The Equinoxes. Though not unique in this because the Egyptians, Greeks, Zoroastrians and Hindus were also aware of this "wobble" in the earth's rotation, it shows the Druids were no savages. To reach their understanding of the precession they would have had to study the stars for many generations so there was continuity of purpose as well as highly advanced skills and disciplines.
This astronomical knowledge was obliterated when Christianity, which is a purely political religion rather than a belief system, gained the ascendancy. It was only rediscovered in the 1950s.
Another area in which the Druidic pagans exceeded Rome was metallurgy. Though Rome gleaned many technological advances from Greece, Phoenicia and Egypt the Roman smiths never learned how to make steel from iron ore by adding small amounts of other monatomic elements and heating the material to a very high temperature at which certain structural changes in the molecule occur and then fixing those changes by rapid cooling.
Such was the quality of Celtic steel that recognisable artefacts have been found in highly acidic peat bogs where similar objects of wrought iron would have corroded to powder long ago.
So, advanced technology, advanced healing techniques, some wonderful music and poetry (many modern folk songs including The Streeets of Laredo and Sheanondoah are derived from very ancient Irish and Scottish melodies) and an understanding of the cosmos. The pagans had plenty to inspire the curious and acquisitive mind. Their answers to the really difficult questions certainly beats the cliched "anything is possible with God," which is what Christians are still trying to tell us.
Pagans despite their fascination with the cosmos do not believe in heaven, resurrection into the life everlasting or any of those fairy stories. Our physical being will be reincarnated (or more accurately recycled) and quantum physics suggests many possibilities; that our actions are recorded on atoms of inorganic matter; the side emissions given off by our neural pathways when we think may travel to infinity; our entire personalities are etched on each individual atom in our being are examples. These things are feasible but none can yet be proved, the chances are they will never be proved. So such things will remain as providers of ideas for fiction writers. Never take fiction literally, that includes Biblical fiction.
If you ask "what does a pagan believe?" no two pagans will ever give the same answer. The whole belief system is about thinking for ourselves. If I worship anything at all it is learning, the idea of worshipping some mythical being is absolutely risible to me. But other pagans may describe acts of worship, and why not if it brings balance to their lives and helps make sense of the world.
In the end that is all any of us is trying to do.
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