"We Don't Really Worship The Gods..."

"We Don't Really Worship The Gods..."

And Other Fallacies

The question of whether or not pagans actually “worship” the gods goes to the heart of what religion is all about. If I think of the gods as mere aspects of my own subconscious, the emphasis is clearly on myself. I'm not trying to serve anything larger or more meaningful than my own ego, and my prayers to the gods are a kind of solipsistic game- I'm actually just praying to myself, after all. If I think of the gods as nothing more than archetypes I can invoke as needed, the emphasis is not only on myself, but on “what's in it for me.” I want to be brave, so I invoke my warrior god aspect. I want to be wise, so I invoke my wisdom goddess aspect. There's no sense of service here- only gaining advantages for myself.

Not only is this not really religious, it isn't even really spiritual. All of the world's great spiritual traditions, no matter what part of the world we look at, share the common theme of transcending the human ego. This is true of mystical traditions from Sufi Islam to Buddhism, and it was true of the mystery traditions within ancient paganism such as Neoplatonism, the Orphic Mysteries, the Eleusinian Mysteries and Pythagoreanism. These mystical traditions are the core of what is “spiritual” about any religion. If we treat our paganism as a kind of role-playing game or self-directed therapy without any aspect of genuine worship, we are doing something essentially hedonistic and self-serving- something very far removed from both religion and spirituality.

 

Of course, most ancient pagans weren't involved in any form of mysticism. To the typical ancient pagan, worship of the gods was analogous to the institution of clientship, by which the most powerful members of a tribe or community would provide various services to the common people in exchange for loyal service. To be a devotee of a particular god in the ancient world was essentially to be a client of that god. Of course, you can't be a client of an entity without genuine power, so both versions of classical paganism share the same assumption- that the gods, whatever they are, are beings of might. That's the theme I'll be examining in my next blog.