January 2012

Prayer in Paganism

Connecting With The Gods

The basic outline of Wiccan ritual is based on Ceremonial Magic rather than pagan religion. It's a simplified Golden Dawn ritual structure superimposed over a theology based on Margaret Murray, the “Golden Bough,” and Robert Graves. Even more recent Wiccan traditions, which don't usually have any direct connection to the Gardernian/Alexandrian lineages, still rely on the same structure. That's why they “cast a circle” to the four directions or “four watchtowers,” rather than emphasizing more traditional elements of religious worship such as prayer and sacrifice.


Their Role In Pagan Worship

One of the defining features of ancient pagan religion was the making of sacrificial offerings. This practice is not widely found in modern Wicca, but is fairly common in other pagan and heathen groups. In ancient times, the offering would often have been an animal such as a bull or a sheep, but as far as I know this is unheard-of in modern paganism. Offerings I have personally seen have included fruit, cheese, nuts, bread and other simple foods paired with water, whiskey, wine or beer.

On the Nature of the Gods

Beyond Hard and Soft Polytheism

In the past several blogs, I've examined what I consider to be the problems with both hard polytheism and soft polytheism for contemporary pagan religion. To sum up my arguments, hard polytheism requires the gods to be defined and delineated with a clarity untypical of of either ancient or still-living polytheist religions, it ignores the important theological concept of microcosm and macrocosm, it ignores the fact that both ancient and living polytheist religions contain mystical theologies in which the gods are aspects of a greater One, and it ignores classical pagan philosophies in which the gods were definitely treated as archetypes. Therefore, I consider any claim that hard polytheism is a faithful representation of ancient pagan religion to be discredited.


Soft polytheism, on the other hand, disregards legitimate and important distinctions between different cultures. It reduces the gods to mere psychological figments in ways that are anti-spiritual and narcissistic. Finally, it disregards the fact that all forms of ancient paganism emphasized the real power and majesty of the gods. Therefore, I consider any claim that soft polytheism is a more appropriate form of polytheism for modern times to be equally discredited.

"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.

Soft Polytheism

Archetypes and Aspects

So, we've examined the problems with the ideology of hard polytheism. Now let's have a look at the problems with soft polytheism, which is probably a lot more common among modern neopagans. Soft polytheism isn't just one thing. One version of soft polytheism treats the gods as psychological archetypes existing solely within the mind. This is a type of paganism influenced by the views of Jung and Campbell.