Sunday, 20 November 2011

Deity and Periphery

This is what I wrote in response to Teo Bishop's very thought-provoking post on deity in Paganism vs the god of Christianity. He talked about his conversion process to Paganism, and asked about how the gods speak to Pagans and how that might vary from the ways that the 'Christian god' is considered by that religion to speak and work in the world today. Go and read, especially the amazing comment stream underneath. Some incredibly thoughtful people have contributed ideas on the gods, the problems with defining them, and how the Christian paradigm is very difficult to 'square' with Pagan approaches (plural) to deity/the Divine. Anyway. I wanted to copy my comment here, because the post and the comments have got me thinking. I said:

I don't know that 'conversion' is the right term for what's going on with me, at least not in the straightforward religious sense. (As a sociological process I can relate to the idea a bit better). As a liberal-radical Christian with a very strong Gnostic influence, Paganism isn't really all that much of a change of paradigm for me. Gnostics have the Sophia myth, as a kind of mother goddess concept; their beliefs are focused in the esoteric wisdom traditions; they have much in common with many Buddhists and other Eastern traditions. Christian Gnosticism is almost more of a spiritual philosophy than a religion. Which means that I've got all these Pagans around me going "Ooh, it's going to be SO hard for you to adjust to these new concepts..." and so far, it just hasn't been. It's a step along on the journey, but not a huge leap off a cliff. So I do think that the type or flavor of Christianity is relevant to the kind of journey they might go on in a process of moving towards Paganism.

But anyway. Concepts of deity. This is the one thing that *has* been a bit harder for me to get my head around (though not impossible, again because of Gnostic influence).  What I think we need to remember is that the god of the Bible, Yahweh, emerged from a very specific culture that valued the written world extremely highly. (The Bronze Age Hebrew people were among the first to use writing, and their gradual elevation of the Torah itself to near-sacred levels is today reflected in the way that Christians relate to the Bible.) To some extent, our society continues to experience the fallout of that - we might not have had such highly codified legal systems or valuing of academic study, for example, without it.

So, for those of us moving into Paganism with *any* kind of Christian influence behind us, we have to remember that we are going to be dragging in our own baggage about the written word. I suffer from this, too - as a sociologist of religion, I can get critical of 'unproven' stuff (like whether the Celts worshipped a certain deity or not) and become focused in the wrong direction, on trying to 'prove' it. That's baggage from both my Christian and my academic backgrounds. And it's usually not the point. Do my deities speak to me today? Yes, but I can't expect them to speak in the same way as a Bronze Age Middle Eastern tribal god. I believe that the gods of the Irish and British ancients spoke to their people in the trees, the wind, the birds... The written word was valued in an *entirely* different way. I need to start by understanding some of these things if I'm going to get *anywhere* with hearing (/seeing/experiencing) these deities. Even the concept of gods 'speaking' is very word-centric. Just like the Bible is: "In the beginning was the Word..." What if we could stop worrying about the written/spoken word, in the modern, narrow, Judeo-Christian sense, and instead ask how the gods sing, do magic, heal, manifest today? Once you throw off the veil of monotheism, and see everything much more metaphorically and esoterically, the word moves away from centre stage. And I think that's a good thing.

Just some thoughts on how different the paradigm is between Christian ideas and many other approaches to the Divine.

In other news, I spent a very awkward time with church friends yesterday. It served as a bit of a clarification of how I feel about church at the moment. The central aspects of it, the Mass and the Gospel and worship, remain important to me - but at the moment, I so very much can't be bothered with the self-congratulatory, ridiculously middle-class, very Anglican-style peripheral stuff, with its 'Where-have-you-been?' type pressure to attend every week whether it benefits me or not. I may go to a church where no one knows me today, so I can slip in and out and not deal with the peripherals. Or I might go and find a bit of the natural world and listen to the trees, the birds, the sky, the river and the gods who manifest in them.

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