A Sacred Pagan Text

Sep 7th, 2012 | By | Category: Uncategorized

A couple of months ago my son, Matt, was asked along to a Christian youth club. After going two three times he told me he was a Christian. I was a bit surprised because for the first sixteen years of his life he’s been a strident atheist, no God, no Heaven, no religion. I was curious… How come? His response was quite enlightening and I’ve got to admit I wasn’t expecting it. He told me that after hearing what Christianity required of you, that you don’t judge, you must care about other people, and be respectful and helpful he told me those were the values he holds, so he’s been a Christian all his life but didn’t know it. So, I asked him about the afterlife and heaven and God, the usual stuff. It was all dismissed; there is no god, no Heaven and no life after death. But Jesus was a great teacher and the Sermon on the Mount is a blueprint for human life. Christianity isn’t a religion so much as the ultimate life-style option.

I wasn’t brought up like Matt. I inherited my parent’s small-time religion. This was a cultural Christianity whose morals kept you on the straight and narrow but which required no particular commitment, beyond attending Church for baptisms, weddings and funerals. But, strangely enough when I look back, it was big on God, Heaven and Hell and the redemptive capability of Sunday School.

So when I came to Paganism, after some three and a half decades of absorbing this Christian background radiation that informed my choices and actions I came to it at an essentially emotional level. I didn’t realise the truth of Druidry because I read the Gospel of Merlin or understand reality through reading Hekate’s Book of Knowing. I realised the truth of Paganism because of what I felt to be a greater spiritual truth for me than that provided by the Abrahamic discourses. And that truth was rooted in my relationship to the subjective sacredness of place. Walking around Cissbury Ring, or the South Downs Way became sacred acts – the normative, the quotidinal became sacred.

But the lack of a sacred text leaves me with two problems. Firstly, I have to acknowledge the validity of my own belief which is always on the edge when you are grounded in feeling and not experience or knowledge. What if I wake up tomorrow and don’t feel this way anymore. What would have been real, in any meaningful sense, about it?

Secondly, there is no conceptual replacement deity. God remains the same, a nice old man with a long beard walking across the clouds looking down on what I do (I know God’s not like that really but it is effectively how I picture him… and note all the masculinity! Lord and Lady, Brigid… don’t get it, don’t get any of it. I get the idea of the Goddess, but I think that’s because you only have to add “dess” onto the word God!

The moral to this story, I think sacred texts are cool but they only work if they are grounded in history and narrative. They only work if the claim is this really happened…

4 Comments to “A Sacred Pagan Text”

  1. john hunt says:

    I don’t think feeling is such a bad thing to base belief on. You believe because of the way you feel, rather than because of a sacred text. reading Unapologetic by Francis Spufford at the moment, it’s the most convincing justification of why it makes sense to be a Christian I’ve come across (though equally what he says could really be applied to any “religion”, in the broadest sense).

  2. Mark Carter says:

    Personally, I think you are correct in that sacred texts must be “grounded in history and narrative.”

    I detest the term “God” as the general public’s personification of divine or supernatural powers which fueled creation. I think it carries too many unnecessary associations and makes assumptions about divine power which can’t be proven. However, I’ll use it for a label below as long as we understand that by “God” I mean a personification of a hard to define supernatural power which underlies creation.

    If we are to understand anything about God then we can only draw conclusions based on the reality he created. It’s not our job to make our conception of God meet a text. It is our job to make our texts match the reality which God created. Anytime our texts don’t match reality, or enforce a view different than what is already happening, then we are forcing our interpretation onto our concept of God. In short, if God is truly all powerful and all knowing then we must assume all of his creation is exactly as he intends it to be and any problems we have with it derive from our failure to understand it rather than his failure to meet our own biased expectations.

    To date, every so called “sacred text” which supposedly expresses the will of God is riddled with historical and logical errors, which God obviously does not commit. Therefore, we have to assume the error is on our part and we must conclude that the more errors a sacred text has the less it truly reflects God or his creation. Basically, the less a text reflects the real world, the less it reflects God. The most direct statement we have from God is the world he created and it is there that we should look for his logic or will.

    Most pagans I speak to agree with this, and this is exactly why I believe paganism is more educated and elegant than any of the so called “revealed religions” which depend on the interpretation of a single sacred text or the words of a single messiah. This is also why paganism has failed to produce a single all encompassing sacred text. After all, a single book which includes all the lessons drawn from reality, and which contains no errors or personal interpretations, is impossible. Thus, pagans hold many books sacred as each of them are an important contribution to understanding the whole of reality around them. This lets pagans embrace science and history in a way that most messianic religions can not. We never see a new discovery as a threat to our concept of God, but as a refinement in our understanding of his creation.

    Personally, I hope that paganism never produces a single sacred text believed to contain a complete and accurate description of God and his will. It would require too much damage to our worldview. Each pagan tradition may hold certain texts above others, but none of them would claim to have the only correct text.

    As for your son, it sounds like his interpretation of Christianity is more intelligent and elegant than most of the Christians I have met. I also suspect he may be viewed as strange by the others. He may believe that “you don’t judge, you must care about other people, and be respectful and helpful”–which is all good. Yet, his claim that “there is no god, no Heaven and no life after death” will make many Christians uneasy. His ability to hold these two views simultaneously proves that his good morals can be reached without accepting the Bible as the revealed word of God. He intends to live a good and moral life, which any Christian might applaud, yet he reached it without accepting their interpretation of reality as expressed in the Bible, which only highlights that the Bible is not the all encompassing text which Christians claim it to be.

  3. Depending on the tradition, some groups have texts they consider sacred, although very have a single one that’s considered THE sacred text (the sacred text to end all sacred texts). I know many ceremonialists who consider the medieval grimoires to be sacred in the value they bring to their tradition. Similarly, the Gardnerian Book of Shadows (depending on the line) is so special it might be considered sacred.

    I think its helpful for us to distinguish between what is sacred and what is holy. Its very possible that the books we write and put out now could be considered sacred texts in a few centuries – but would they be considered holy?

    The concern about not feeling the same some day is probably why so many of these texts in magickal traditions grow and evolve. And possibly why so many of them come from unknown or questionable origin. Could it be that the original authors of them changed their view so drastically that they abandoned the work altogether? I suppose that’s why my own tradition places so much emphasis on journalism and personal reflection. Tracking our own process helps to cushion the possibility of changing thought-patterns so we’re less likely to wake up one morning and be divinely surprised.

  4. Clarke Owens says:

    We are defined by our values. When people (Trevor’s son, Trevor) identify with a religion, they are identifying what is most valuable to them. Interesting that Matt is essentially an atheist, who feels the tug of the social group, finds values in common, and is then willing to accept the nomenclature of the group, without submitting to their complete system of indoctrination. Trevor, on the other hand, felt himself pulled in another direction, but fears that it could evaporate because the tug is emotional. If we don’t give up on values, there will always be a core. Christians often seem irrational because they resist all reasonable arguments, but they do so because they feel that their integrity, their self-identifying values system would collapse without the religious structure it is built upon. As Sartre pointed out, there is never any way to avoid defining oneself, even when one claims to be defined by God, and to have no say in the matter. Witness the position of the Pope vs. the position of Sen. Imhofe, et al, on climate change. Both claim to speak for God. Who really speaks for God? We must decide, based on our most cherished values.

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