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Aspects of Religion: A Wiccan Viewpoint

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Aspects of Religion: A Wiccan Viewpoint[credits]

by Robin Woodsong

 

Among early Pagans, religion was a fact taken for granted, "requiring no explanation." There was no need to define religion because religion was a part of each persons being. "We have not yet encountered in Egyptian and Babylonian literature a word which corresponds to our word 'religion.' The ancient Hebrews certainly did not possess one, and when, in post-Biblical times, it became necessary to devise one for philosophical and theological nomenclature, the one chosen was a word which simply indicated ''faith' " (The Study of Religion, by Prof.Morris Jastrow, p. 130).

When the Monotheistic religions split the soul and the body into two distinct halves, the idea of religion, which focused on the soul and rejected the body, was created. Modern Pagans (or neo-Pagans) believe that religion is a re-linking back to nature and Her processes, to re-link the soul and the body into a unified whole and to re-link the natural and the spiritual. Pagans don't look towards transcendence of the physical. Our physical body and the physical universe in which we live are sacred in every sense of the word. We also believe in the inherent divinity of each person, believing that our physical and mental selves are a seamless whole, which is an expression of the divine, and thus each person is inherently deserving of honor and respect.

The word religion is derived from the Latin words relegere, and religare. "As used by Cicero, relegere meant 'having a care' for the gods" (Professor Jastrow); and religare as used by Lactantius, meant to "bind fast" or to "bind back" to God or the Gods (Century Dictionary). Lactantius defined religion as "the link which unites man to God" (Sabatier's Outlines of a Philosophy of Religion, p. 5). This last conception of religion "through the influence of Augustine, who adopted it, dominated the theology of the Middle Ages" (Jastrow's Study of Religion, p. 131).

In the last 1600 years the western world has viewed religion through the filter of Augustinian influenced Christian beliefs. To Luther and other Protestant reformers religion meant an escape from sin and justification before God. "How to find God, and how to adjust one's relationship to Him."

Religion was defined by the courts "as an organized body of believers employing religious ceremony and having a faith in and commitment to a supernatural Supreme Being." Davis V. Beason (1890)

Wicca does not fall within this definition. We are barely organized, and although we do have commitment to our path, a person's professed faith is less of an issue than a person's actions which illustrate their true beliefs. Many Wiccan do not believe in a "Supernatural Supreme Being".

font size="4"> Later the Supreme court muddied the waters further by ruling that "[t]he term `religion' has reference to one's view of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will."

Again this view has little in common with Wicca.

But by the 1960's the courts began to broaden their definition as to what constitutes a religion. In United States v. Seeger (1965), the Supreme Court ruled that a belief is religious if it is "sincere and meaningful [and] occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God."

Paul Tillich wrote from the Christian point of view when he claimed that most, if not all human beings, including atheists, have an ultimate commitment of one sort or another, something that serves as a unifying center for their personality and consciousness: a transcendent object.

Although this is closer to the Wiccan point of view it still relies on a "transcendent object".

John Dewey, a Humanist philosopher expanded the definition of religion by saying that religion is: "Any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of convictions of its general and enduring value is religious in quality."

Deweys view is overly broad. This definition would encompass almost any human activity, but certainly Wicca falls within it bounds.

Prof. William James lists "psychological characteristics" of a religious life: ( I) "A new zest, which adds itself like a gift to life and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of an appeal to earnestness and heroism." (2) "An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving-affections."

The Supreme Court finally defined religion as a belief "based upon a power or being or upon a faith, to which all else is subordinate or upon which all else is ultimately dependent."

Being Pantheists of one type or another, Wiccan's have little use for faith, which is belief in things unseen. Non-Pagan religions includes axioms that are not based on any observable phenomena. A Witch sees the world, touches it and enfolds it in metaphors which allow for personalization and involvement in its processes. We don't need faith to see that we are indeed dependent on the Earth for food, water, oxygen and everything that supports our physical lives. But we also see ourselves as part of all. The early stars of our universe, which finally went nova and died provided the physical matter of which our bodies are made.

Although in another sense you can say that we have great faith, since we believe in the goodness of humankind, that the world is a fine and wonderful place full of potential, and nature has inherent rational and logical expression in our world.

"For thousands of years man's approach to religion has been a conflict between two concepts:

The Celebrants: the individual who personally tried to understand the meaning of life by loving and living it to the hilt, who watched the infinity of the star studded skies, rejoiced about the daily return of the sun, celebrated the excitement of the hunt, the ecstasy of sex, and the miracle of birth, all the while feeling that he himself was part of the life force, which would joyfully reclaim him at the end of his days.

The Worshiper: One whose faith was based on fear and awe of a force of an infinite power and authority, a jealous god who had to be flattered, worshiped, appeased, and bargained with in the same manner that one had to deal with the old chief of the clan. Hence, one made deals with him to obtain favors, to be "saved" or to be forgiven for one's feelings of guilt for cultural or ritual trespasses (sin). But how could one make such deals? Well, as with the chief, by dealing with those who let it be known that only they knew the word of god and how to get through to him (often at a price)." (When Santa was a Shaman, Tony Van Renterghem, p15)

These two positions illustrate some of the basic differences in religious world views. Even within the Christian sects there are world views of such broad variance as to have created different cultures with the same city. Religions which believe that man is inherently sinful, and must be vigilantly monitored to prevent their slipping into degradation and sin, do not understand the attitudes of those who believe that man is put on the planet to worship the Glory of God. The two see us as quite different, one sees people as on the way to hell every second of every day, the other sees people as basically decent, with occasional flaws, but generally joyful and praising of God. Which group would you rather work with?

Paganism goes that a step further. We see man - and woman - as an expression of the divine, and the divine as a mirror of us. So each of us must be considered as honorable and worthy of respect, unless we prove ourselves unworthy. And even if we prove ourselves not to be in concert with the goals and standards of a particular community, we are not automatically considered to be "wicked and beyond redemption". It is assumed that there are reasons for the behavior of those non-conformists, even if it is not evident to us. And that although that person must assume full and personal responsibility for their actions, they may be atoning for past lessons unlearned, balancing energy for past behaviors, or experiencing this for some purpose of their own, which may include biological or physical limitations of their particular body or incarnation. They are not BAD people, but their behavior marks them as unwelcome, and they will not stay in the community other than by the will of the community which decides to sustain them through this aberrant stage. Or not. Then they must leave and go elsewhere. Paganism is celebratory and joyful, but they are not victims.


Grandfather Great Spirit

All over the world the faces
of living ones are alike.

With tenderness they have
come up out of the ground.

Look upon your children
that they may face the winds
And walk the good road to the Day of Quiet.

Grandfather Great Spirit
Fill us with the Light.
Give us the strength to understand,
And the eyes to see.

Teach us to walk the soft Earth
as relatives to all that live
.