of Religion: A Wiccan Viewpoint[credits]
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
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
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
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.