Pagans and Paganism

There has been some discussion recently about whether or not the word pagan should be used as a name for people who practice non Christian religions. The religious meaning of the word pagan means non Christian in general, or, more partucularly, non Christian, non Islamic, non Jewish, or non Abrahamic. So, yes, of course, a word which means non Christian (or non Islamic, Jewish, or Abrahamic) is perfectly appropriate for people who are not Christian (or Islamic, Jewish, or Abrahamic). As a category of belief and pracice, the term paganism is vague and general and includes polytheistic, henotheistic, monotheistic, and atheistic religions and philosophies.

 

Apparently some people have become disturbed that the general term of “paganism” includes new religions such as Wicca, and other belief systems that include elements that are not part of the traditional religions of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Babylon, the Druids, the Celts, the ancient Germanic and Norse peoples, etc. Some reconstructionists are afraid that their own religious movements will be viewed by the media as being connected to what might be described as “fluff bunnyism”, which includes such things as magic wands, fairy dust, claims that there is only one supreme goddess and god, dragon and unicorn lovers, earth worshippers, tree huggers, astrological fanatics, crystal fondlers, and glittery New Age dabblers. So these people, being afraid of the popular media, would like to discard the word pagan, since in their view the word has become irretrievably contaminated by the fluff bunnies. I say that these people are cowards and self deceivers. Someone who is practicing some form of revived Druidism, or Religio Romana, or Hellenismos, or Kemeticism, etc and claims to not be a pagan is engaging in self deception. The religious meaning of the word pagan was specifically and deliberately invented 1600 years ago as a description of the non Christian religions of the Roman Empire. It was intended as a mark of dishonor and disrespect, but it has since become a mark of pride and persistence for those of us who are loyal to the ancient gods. I have been a pagan for fifty years and I am not going to abandon that term for the exclusive use of fluff bunnies and Wiccans. Some people would like to substitute the word polytheist for the word pagan. That’s not going to work. The general public does not know what the word polytheist means, and the meaning of the word is almost as general as the meaning of the word pagan.  Pagan, however, does have a specific meaning that is more relevant to us in historic terms. Pagan, in a scholarly sense, refers to the pre Christian and pre Islamic religions of the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, including all of Europe and all of the Near East. Someone who is practicing one (or more!) of the original religions of that area is indeed a pagan, no matter how hard they pretend that they are not. The religious meaning of the word pagan has dark origins, but it has become a very useful term. So, I say, be pagan and proud! Don’t give in to the fluff bunnies and the modern media! 

 

It might be useful to briefly review the history of the word pagan. Interested persons should consult the Oxford Latin Dictionary for a discussion of the word. The word pagan is derived from the Latin word paganus. Paganus originally meant both a rural district and a person who lived in a rural district. The meaning of the word changed over the centuries and during the Roman Imperial era it came to mean the lower classes in general, ordinary people of no distinction, whether they lived in urban districts or rural districts. Sometimes it meant civilians or civilian affairs, as distinguished from soldiers and military affairs. The religion of Christianity became fashionable among the upper classes of the Roman Empire in the fourth century ce, and it became the favored religion of the Emperors and the military establishment. In spite of this, the majority of people who lived in the smaller towns and cities and in the countryside, and the urban masses of a few large cities, continued to worship the old gods and goddesses for generations after the Christians had taken control of the government. Because the pagani, the common district dwellers, continued to honor the old gods, the word paganus acquired a religious connotation. During the fifth century ce the word paganus came to mean anyone who was not a Christian or a Jew.  

 

A personal note: I consciously and officially became a pagan, of the Graeco-Roman variety, fifty years ago. It was in September or October of 1961. Perhaps September 14 or 21. I wrote the date down on a piece of paper which I kept for many years. Then the paper got lost or thrown away, and now I don’t remember the exact date anymore. Fifty year anniversaries are sometimes thought of as important. Maybe I should do something for it. What have I accomplished in fifty years? Hmmm. I survived.

Published in: on May 31, 2011 at 9:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Basic Principles

Basic Principles of Cosmology and Theology – A Personal View

 

Introduction

 

This is a summary of my personal beliefs and opinions concerning the basic elements of cosmology and theology. The presentation is intended to be precise, simple, and clear, without any hidden meanings or assumptions. It is also intended to be culturally neutral, without reliance upon or reference to any particular school of thought or philosophical system.

The Universe

 

The universe is infinite and eternal. The universe has always existed and will always continue to exist, without beginning and without end. The universe exists within time and space, but it has no limits. It has no fixed or permanent boundaries. The universe has always existed in time,and it is capable, in theory, of infinite expansion into the void of space.

Time is real. Space is real. Time and space have no beginning and no end. Time and space extend infinitely in all directions and dimensions from any point. Time and space are eternal and boundless, without limit. Time and space are infinite and eternal, but the perception of time and space by the beings and entities dwelling within the universe is influenced and limited by the conditions and circumstances that exist at the point of perception. Time can be defined as duration, the duration of a state of being, or the duration of a set of non simultaneous events. Space can be defined as an emptiness, an emptiness into which something can be placed.

The universe is chaotic in nature. Everything comes from chaos and to chaos everything can return. Chaos is not an entity, or a being, or a god. Chaos is a condition, a situation, a state of being. The universe exists in a continous state of creation and change. No one created the universe. It creates and renews itself, continuously and everlastingly. No one can control the universe, but all the beings and entities that exist within the universe have some influence, whether great or small, on what the universe is and what it becomes. Order exists within the universe, but order tends to be local and particular, and is subject to change.

The greater universe contains within itself lesser universes and lesser worlds. The totality of the greater universe and its lesser universes might be more accurately described as the multiverse. The multiverse may vary in size, sometimes larger and sometimes smaller, never ceasing to exist and never expanding to infinity. There are worlds within worlds, perhaps to a very great number. These lesser worlds may have limits in time and space. They may have a beginning and an end. The totality of the universe exists forever, but lesser worlds may be created, or destroyed, or recreated, or changed beyond recognition. A particular world may seem to have been utterly destroyed, but the elements of which that world was made may still exist in one form or another. A world may seem to have been newly created, but the elements of which that world is made may have been part of a different world at a previous point in time and space.

The Gods

 

There are many gods. How many? Who can say? There are more than one, more than two, more than three, and more than twelve. There are many gods, and each of these gods may have many forms. There exists a multitude of deities, and each of these deities can have a multitude of forms. Divinity is multiple and various, both in appearance and reality. There exists a multiplicity of gods represented by a multiplicity of forms. No single god hides behind all the multitude of divine forms. The gods are individual divine persons, and each of these divine persons may possess multiple names, multiple personalities, many and varied manifestations and forms of being.

The gods have many forms and they can reveal themselves in many ways. They are both immanent and transcendent, as they choose. They are present in the elements and forms of being. They are manifest in the forms of nature, in matter and energy, but they are also transcendent beings not bound by any material form. The gods can reveal themselves in the human mind. They can appear as human or other beings, or as material objects. A god may become manifest in one’s thoughts, or as another person, as a plant or an animal, as a river or a mountain. There are very few limits of form or being upon the gods. They are what they choose to be.

The gods are great and powerful beings, the greatest and most powerful in the universe. Although the gods are vastly superior and all powerful when compared to human beings, they do not possess absolute power. No single entity possesses absolute power, and neither does any group of entities. The gods are not omnipotent, they are not omniscient, and they are not omnipresent. The gods can not destroy the universe, although they can change the universe. Do the gods possess varying degress of power and influence? Perhaps. It is a traditional belief that the gods possess different degrees of power and that there are hierarchies of rank and authority and different levels of influence among them.

The gods are immortal. There existence is permanent. They do not die, although they may choose to inhabit forms that may die or appear to die. The mythologies of the world are littered with stories about dying gods, but it should be noted that in these stories the god who dies sooner or later returns, in one way or another, in one place or another, and is manifest again.

The gods are objectively real entities whose continued existence is not dependent upon the beliefs or actions of lesser beings. They are not merely archtypes, or imaginary symbols of human thoughts and activities, or symbolic representations of natural events and processes. They are real. They exist. They are free and independent beings, equally divine, not controlled byany other entity or power. The gods create what they desire. Their wisdom and power give shape to the world. They create order out of chaos.

Humankind and the Gods

 

The gods are revealed through experience, tradition, and artistic vision. The gods can be reached within the human mind, and some of them may be of human origin. Your own experiences, and the experiences of others, can reveal the presence of the gods. Tradition consists of the remembered or recorded experiences, beliefs, and practices of our ancestors. The creation and contemplation of art is often a religious experience, and this can also reveal the presence of the gods. Beliefs are, or should be, based on experience, the experience of becoming aware of the many and varied revelations and manifestations of the gods, and the experience of engaging in practices that enable communication with the gods.

It is a traditional belief that the gods help those who call upon them. If you give the gods respect and consideration, they may look with favor upon you. If you disrespect the gods, they may look upon you with disfavor.

The gods are pleased by the gift of offerings and sacrifices, by temples, images, and ceremonies. They do not need these things and they are not dependent on them. Humans need these things if they wish to have the active and conscious presence of the gods in their lives. You do not have to worship the gods. If you ignore the gods, the gods will ignore you, usually. Do not expect the gods to answer your prayers if you have not offered them proper respect and consideration.

It is good to practice the cult of the gods, to offer them worship, and to ask for their blessings in return. A cult is a set of beliefs, practices, activities, rituals, and ceremonies that are associated with the worship of a deity or group of deities. Cult is activity directed towards the gods with the intention of offering them respect and worship and of asking for their blessings and favor. Cult activity can range from a simple prayer said by one person to a grand public ceremony with many participants.

Anyone can worship the gods at any time. You do not need permission from anyone else to worship the gods or to perform rituals or ceremonies in their honor. The act of worship can be formal or informal, very elaborate or very simple, depending on circumstances and the needs and desires of the people involved. Worship can be simple and informal, but it must not be careless and thoughtless. Approach the gods with respect and consideration. Anyone who knows the requirements of a particular ritual can act as priest or priestess in performing that ritual. A priest or priestess is a person who is knowledgeable about ritual requirements and who is skilled in performing rituals and ceremonies. Priests and priestesses can act as intermediaries between the human and the divine.

Immortality

 

The gods are immortal. They do not die. Their existence is permanent, although they may sometimes choose to inhabit physical forms that can die, or appear to die. It may be possible to distinguish between eternal gods and immortal gods. If this distinction is valid, then an eternal god has no beginning and no end in time, and an immortal god has a beginning in time and no end.

Humans also possess a degree of immortality. A person’s physical body will die and be destroyed, but a part of that person will continue to exist after the body is gone. The part of a human that survives death is traditionally called a soul or spirit. Many different things can happen to the soul after death. Some people may linger in this world as spirits or ghosts. Some people may be reborn in this world or in some other world, as a human or as some other type of being. Some people may find themselves, for a period of time, in a world that resembles one of the heavens or hells imagined by some religions. Things such as personality, memories, and thoughts may be temporary and may eventually fade away. The spirits of some people may hang suspended in the void, unconscious and unaware, drifting for aeons of time on the winds of chaos before they take shape again as conscious beings. At the very least, afrer a person’s physical body has been destroyed, the person continues to exist as a potentiality that can be called forth into conscious and material existence in the approriate circumstances. There are many possibilities, and different things may happen to different people. The fate of your soul is influenced by what kind of person you are, the kind of life you have lived,  the actions of other beings, random events and circumstances which can not be predicted or controlled, and even your own thoughts and desires.

The Purpose of Life

 

Life is its own purpose. To the extent that they are capable of doing so, living beings decide for themselves what the purpose of their lives should be or if their lives should have a purpose beyond living. That decision may be conscious or unconscious. Some creatures are controlled by their instincts and by environmental factors and are not capable of making a conscious choice. The act of living, in and of itself, can be reason enough to live.

Humans have the freedom and the responsibility to decide for themselves how to live and what to do with their lives. You were not placed in this world to serve some hidden master or to fulfil some mysterious unknown purpose. You are here to do what you choose to do, and to bear the consequences and rewards of doing so. There are some obvious limits on what you can choose to do. You are limited by your genetic inheritance, your physical and mental abilities, the environment in which you live, the amount of knowledge you possess, the kind of society and culture that you live in. Your life can be influenced by events and conditions over which you have no control, and of which you may not even be aware. Even though there may be limits on your choices, your life still belongs to you, and you alone have the ultimate right to decide what to do with it.

Published in: on January 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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Towards First Steps in Theology

Elemental Steps in Comprehension. Or, Building Blocks in the Development of Theology. Or, Awareness of Existence.

Part I, Awareness: I am. You are. They are. It is.

Part II, Experience: Experience begins and awareness expands. Things and events happen. Situations develop and change. Interactions occur. Knowledge is acquired.  The gods reveal themselves.

Part III, Initial Conclusions: The universe exists. The gods exist. Humans exist.

The universe is eternal. The gods are immortal. Humans possess a degree of immortality.

The universe is dangerous, but not malevolent. The universe is chaotic, changeable, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, but order and stability also exist.

Published in: on January 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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A Definition of Polytheism

 

By John H Carlson, originally published in Scroll of Oplontis in September, 1991 ce.

The word “polytheism” is derived from the Greek words “polu” and “theos”, which mean “many” and “god”. Polytheism is defined as a belief in the existence of many gods. It is the idea that there are many divine powers. It is the idea that divinity ultimately resides in many separate entities and beings.

There are many gods and goddesses. The gods are the greatest and most powerful beings. They are wise and just. They are immortal. They are worthy of respect and adoration.

The gods have many forms and they can reveal themselves in many ways. They are both immanent and transcendent. They are present in the elements and forms of being. They are manifest in the forces of nature, in matter and energy, but they are also transcendent beings not bound by any material form. The gods can reveal themselves in the human mind. They can appear as human or other beings, as plants or animals, or as material objects. There are no limits of form or being upon the gods and goddesses. They are what they choose to be.

Divinity is multiple and various, both in appearance and in reality. No single god or goddess hides behind all the multitude of divine forms. The gods and goddesses are objectively real entities whose existence is not dependent upon the beliefs or actions of lesser beings. They are not archetypes. They are not imaginary symbols of human activity or of the human mind. They are not symbolic representations of natural events and processes.

The gods and goddesses are real. They exist. Their wisdom and power give shape to the world. Their beauty and grace will last forever.

The gods and goddesses are free and independent beings. They are equally divine. They are not controlled by any other entity or power.

The gods and goddesses are pleased when lesser beings freely acknowledge their existence and offer them respect and worship. They do not need or require this acknowledgement. The all powerful gods and goddesses need nothing. They create whatever they desire.

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Commentary on October 4, 2010 ce: This particular definition of polytheism was an attempt to express my own thoughts, opinions, and beliefs about the existence and nature of the gods. It is more or less culturally neutral, although it does fit with the religious concepts of the ancient Greeks and Romans, as expressed through their mythology, poetry, ritual activities, and art. Although this definition was written nineteen years ago, it still expresses my essential and basic beliefs and opinions about the gods. 

All true religion is ultimately based on experience rather than on the written word, but nevertheless the written word can be very useful in describing what experience has revealed. Ancient religions did not generally have formal statements of belief or theology. If people were performing a ritual to Zeus they would not have started the ceremony by saying “I believe in Zeus”. It would have been silly, since, obviously, if someone didn’t believe in the existence of Zeus , then that person would not be participating in a ritual to Zeus or asking for the god’s blessings. Nevertheless, formal statements and explanations of theology can be very useful when defining a group of religious concepts and practices as a religion. Ancient Greek and Roman culture did not as a general rule incorporate specific named religions. Groups such as the Orphics and the Pythagoreans are a partial exception to this observation but only a partial exception. The Orphics and Pythagoreans had their own specific teachings, but these groups were still part of the mass of beliefs and practices that form what we call “ancient Greek religion”.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 8:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Scroll of Poppaeus

So, here I am with a blog, wondering what to do next.

So, on November 12 I decided that this was not going to work and erased everything.

Then on November 13 I decided to try again and restored everything.

As originally stated, this is the blog of Quintus Poppaeus Sabinus, the name I prefer to use for my cultural and religious activities. I am an adherent of Classical Polytheistic Paganism, the syncretic blend of Greek and Roman religion that was the primary religious system of the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial eras. I am also interested  in Egyptian religion and Graeco-Egyptian syncretism.

I have a considerable interest in the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, and Egypt, and particularly in temples and sacred art.  

This blog is also an Internet outpost of Antoninia, the Antonine Imperium, a sort of phantom pagan empire that I created a while back.

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 4:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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