virus: PAGAN DEISM: Three Views - by Margarian Bridger

Date: Sun Jul 28 2002 - 21:09:16 MDT

                      PAGAN DEISM: Three Views
                        by Margarian Bridger
     Most discussions of the variety of Wiccan beliefs start by
      assuming that there are two basic positions: either one
   believes literally in personal, named deities ('deist', in the
        common parlance), or one does not ('non-deist'). The
     more I talk to non-deist Witches, the more I believe that
      this is an oversimplification. I'd like to suggest a new
     model, using not two but three endpoints, to which I have
         assigned primary colours for convenient reference.
Red: The first of these endpoints is the orthodox deist
position: the gods are personal, named, individual
entities, with whom one can communicate almost as one
would with human beings. They may or may not be
humanlike. They exist in a way ('level', 'plane', or
'dimension') that is far beyond human comprehension,
but their existence is objectively verifiable.
Blue: Deity exists. It is the Ultimate Sacred / Great
Mystery / Source. It is so great, so subtle, so all-
encompassing, that we cannot hope to comprehend more
than a tiny fraction of it. Being ourselves human, we
relate best to things that are humanlike, and so we have
'the gods': humanlike metaphors or masks which we
place upon the faceless Face of the Ultimate, so that
through them we can perceive and relate to a little of It.
Yellow: The gods exist only as constructs within the
human mind and imagination. They are Truths -- valid
ways of making sense out of human thought and
experience, personifications of abstracts that might
otherwise be too slippery for the human mind to grasp --
but they are not Facts; they have no objectively verifiable
existence. Like other abstracts (e.g. Freedom,
Democracy, Love, Truth) they enrich our lives and are
worth believing in, but it is naive to think that they have
any objectively verifiable existence. It doesn't matter that
the gods aren't factual; they're true, and that's what's
Now, let's arrange these endpoints in the shape of a
triangle, with Red at the top, and Blue and Yellow at the
left and right of the base.
Many people's beliefs don't fall precisely on one of these
endpoints, but somewhere along one of the edges, or
even in the middle. A person's beliefs may change from
moment to moment, or may remain fixed for years.
Eco-feminist Witches, to whom the Earth is the living
body of the Goddess, mostly cluster along the Green
edge, between Blue and Yellow; those who believe in
transcendent deity are along the Purple edge, from Red to
Blue. Those who relate to the gods in a very personal
way, but are agnostic about Their nature, are probably
the Orange edge. Most Jungians cluster near the Yellow
point; pantheists are mostly Blue or Green. A totally
agnostic Witch is an earthy shade of mud-brown; an
atheistic one must be on the Yellow tip.
Yet even this is an oversimplification. Two Witches who
cluster very closely on this triangle might have very
different beliefs about reincarnation, or about the nature
of magic; two who are widely separated on the triangle
might have identical beliefs on these topics. For most of
them, additional axes in another dimension would be
needed; some would require entirely independent
complex maps. Nevertheless, let's take the triangle as a
working model for the moment.
This triangle is about conscious beliefs, those which we
can analyze and put into words. But Wicca is, first and
foremost, a mystery religion. The more deeply we
participate in the Mysteries, the less relevant distinctions
of belief and interpretation become. We can represent
this by drawing a pyramid upon the triangular base we
have established. When we debate the differences in our
beliefs, we are operating near the base of the pyramid.
The more we simply let ourselves experience the
Mysteries, and suspend our interpretation of them, the
more nearly we approach the apex. The triangular cross-
section becomes smaller, the different beliefs draw closer
together. At the apex, they merge into a single point --
and it is this point, this rare moment of total immersion
in the Mysteries, that all religions have in common.
This suggests a further geometric model. That peak that
transcends belief systems becomes the centre of a sphere.
Our original triangle may be mapped onto its surface,
together with the maps of the beliefs of other religions.
More likely, it's a hypersphere, as every religion has
common boundaries and areas of overlap with many
Beyond the sphere lies the void of non-religion. But how
can we define this? Not as atheism; for atheism is itself a
type of religion. Not as agnosticism; even agnostics can
find a place for themselves within the sphere. Perhaps we
can best define this as nihilism, or perhaps religious
>From this macrocosmic view, let's now return to the
original triangle. What does it mean for us, individually?
Most of the time, a Wiccan's personal beliefs about the
nature of deity are almost invisible. Wiccans whose
beliefs plot onto the triangle at very different places can
work the same magic, share the same rituals and
language, and practise the Craft side by side without ever
noticing that what is literal fact for one is metaphorical
truth for another. A Red may be more reluctant than a
Blue or Yellow to mix pantheons, or to speak of the
various horned gods as if they were interchangeable. A
Yellow may spend less energy than those of other colours
on explicit worship, and more on explorations of human
psychology. Yet such patterns become apparent, if at all,
only over many months or years. It's easy for most of us
to slip into the assumption that most of our friends and
coveners believe as we do. The discovery that they don't
can lead to feelings of betrayal and loss of trust. This can
degenerate into name-calling, the Yellows being labelled
'not real Witches' and retaliating with such epithets as
'superstitious' and 'dogmatic'.
Unless we wish to discard our focus on mystery and
experience, and instead become a religion of creed and
dogma, we can't afford such battles. However, it is also
unwise to bury our heads in the sand and pretend to a
nonexistent homogeneity of belief. We must accept that
all of us, in our various colours of belief, are Witches
together. In order that we may be better able to serve as
priestesses and priests, we need to explore and
understand one another's beliefs.
What is the source of the different perceptions of deity?
It's not a difference in experience; three different Witches
might have very similar encounters with deity, but
interpret them differently according to the colour of their
beliefs. Neither is it purely a difference of personality
types; if it were, the same individual would never move
from one belief to another over time, without showing
signs of major personality change. If there is any
consistent distinguishing factor, perhaps it is a difference
in needs.
The primary need of the Yellow Wiccan is the need for
truth. Perhaps this person is naturally skeptical, or
perhaps at some time they've suffered serious
disillusionment. Either way, this person cannot believe
without doubting, and cannot reconcile belief with doubt.
The images and experiences of the Craft are as treasured
by this type as by any other, but to them, a belief that
cannot be questioned is vulnerable. A twig that cannot be
bent can only be broken.
The gods, to the Yellow Wiccan, are symbol and
metaphor, and the religious journey is the quest for self-
knowledge. Through meditation, through myth and myth-
making, and perhaps through direct conversations with
that higher and deeper, but to them, still human,
awareness which expresses itself as 'the voice of the
god/dess', ritual becomes for the Yellow a tool for
enriching human life and awareness, and for
participating more fully in the world and its needs.
Jungian psychology and its language may figure
prominently in their rites, and the gods may at various
times be perceived as specific aspects, as archetypes, or
as an undifferentiated whole. Whether they cling to the
time-tested value of traditional ritual forms, or create
entirely new material, their task is to design ritual that
Faith is the primary need of the Red Wiccan. To them,
the gods simply are. Whether the Red is naturally
trusting, or whether they have repeatedly tested their
perceptions of the gods and concluded that they have
objective reality, they believe the many gods are facts of
the universe, impossible to question or doubt without
doubting one's own version of reality. Belief is not a
question, it is the cornerstone from which all else of
religion springs. How can one practise the Craft without
such beliefs, they ask, except as a hypocrite? It simply
wouldn't make sense.
For the Red Wiccan, ritual is about interaction with the
real, living Gods. Whether by seeking to re-create the
ancient forms of Their worship, or by getting to know
Them personally and devise new forms that will satisfy
Them, everything focuses around one or more of the
individual Gods. Sometimes They must be propitiated, at
other times They seek to share only our laughter and
celebration. Often They have advice to offer, or mysteries
to share. But always, the focus is upon invocation of, and
service to, the individual and personal Gods.
The Blue Wiccan is, perhaps, the mystic of the Craft.
This person's primary need is to belong. Only in a whole
and holistic universe, where all things are part of one
great Pattern, can one be sure that one's own existence
has meaning and purpose. The deity of such a universe
must necessarily be whole and singular; it is only because
of our own limited perceptions that we can only
experience it by dividing it into many aspects and many
forms. The purpose of religion is to explore, and more
actively participate in, the pattern which is the sum of
these many parts.
A Blue Wiccan's favourite rituals, therefore, are those
which advance our understanding of the Mysteries, and
which let us participate more consciously in the monthly
and annual cycles. Blues will likely favour magic which
reshapes the patterns of the universe to their needs, or
which helps them become more aware of those patterns
in order to act more effectively as a part of them.
Meditation, celebration, and cyclical or patterned
activities appear often in this person's rites, as do efforts,
both pragmatic and symbolic, to reshape the wholeness
of the pattern where it is broken.
Whatever our individual beliefs might be, all of us need
to have faith, to belong, and to know truth. All of us have
the capacity, therefore, to understand the needs and
attitudes of our fellow Wiccans whose beliefs might
differ from our own. And that is just as well, as we are
all part of the same religion. With mutual understanding,
perhaps we can work together to help the Craft grow in
directions which will serve the needs of us all, and of the
gods, whatever we might each perceive them to be.

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