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So who created the world? 

A water monster? [1] Maybe the first people emerged through a magic reed?[2]   Maybe it was Pele fighting with a fire God?[3]  

What we do know was that it was all done in six days, because Sunday was a day off. [4]  The first deadline.

But, unless we have a specific tribal tradition that explains how the world was created, what should neo-Pagan’s [5] think about the story of creation?  Where does neo-Pagan practice point us when we consider origins? 

I think there are several ways to consider this question.  We can look at the problem as if we were Christian creationists[6] : asking for the practical answer to the question of how the world began.  We can also look at it from a tribal perspective, asking what the various stories about creation tell us about ourselves, our tribe, and our relationship to the world.  And, finally, we can ask what the process of thinking about creation tells us about the Gods and Goddesses and our relation to them.  For me, this is the most interesting question. 

The first problem should be easy to deal with for neo-Pagans.   As a religion dominated by computer programmers and scientists we should be easily convinced that our theology should agree to the first order with how the universe works. [7] 

Pagan Theology Principle #1: Being delusional is not a good way to approach theology. 

In order to be self-consistent, any set of theological principles must also be consistent with how the universe works.  In other words, we can’t just claim reality works any old way we wish it would. [8]  Our beliefs won’t change how the world works.  Making that mistake only will lead us to grief, whether its from a stubbed toe, someone thinking we’re bumpkins, or, worse, being lumped in with fundamentalist Christians.  Rationalism was one of the great gifts of European Paganism to the Western World: we should not dismiss it. 

We will deal with magic in a future column, but the arguments about the relationship between magic and the world are essentially similar to the arguments about deity and the world.  We cannot formulate a belief system that makes predictions about the world that are contradicted by real-world evidence.  And we should be careful when making claims that are too difficult to prove.  So, as rational Pagans, we need to accommodate the essential elements of modern scientific theories about origins. [9]  That means the “world” as it exists now is the product of natural forces acting over long time-scales [10].  No need to get involved in squabbles about details, the basic scientific narrative has been sufficiently supported by evidence, and makes enough sense, that it can be accepted as fact. 

So what does an evolving universe working through long time mean for the Gods and Goddesses?  Were they created with the universe?  Did they pop into existence when our ancestors began to seriously consider what it meant to be human and mortal?  Or did they somehow participate in whatever came before the universe started, as immortal forces that have existed and will always exist?

The Pagan Gods and Goddesses are in the world, not apart and separate from it.  They exist in the same sense that anything exists, they have physical and associative[11] meanings that are tied to the world that we, and they exist in.  Thus, for the Gods and Goddess to exist before the universe did does not make much sense.  Whatever came before the universe started relates to the Gods and Goddesses in the same way it relates to us: not very much.  Without time or space to occupy and move through whatever came before cannot easily be related to what exists now.  In other words, if the Gods and Goddesses existed they did so in a form that we would not relate to, and they would have meanings that would be essentially meaningless to us. 

The Gods and Goddesses did not precede the physical universe, and will not exist beyond it.    Before you get mad, remember one thing:  We currently don’t quite know how the universe will end.  We don’t even know whether there is one universe, or what we really live in is a multiverse.  Our lack of understanding about the meta-nature of the universe leads us able to draw only vague conclusions about what “immortal” or “eternal” really mean.[12]   The most likely scenario according to current evidence is that we live in an open model universe, which will continue expanding and existing forever, albeit in a very low-energy state.[13]  

The current evidence is perfect for Pagans.  With the Gods and Goddesses tied to the universe, an always-existing universe suggests that they will continue as part of the multiverse as long as the multiverse itself exists.  It also makes sense that they entered into this universe at its creation, manifesting according to the laws and nature of the universe they found themselves in. 

The association of Gods and Goddesses that exist as part of an ever changing, but always existing, multiverse fits perfectly with the specific manifestation of the Gods and Goddesses as part of our lives in this world.  In the same way that they must adapt and work with the fabric of the particular universe they find themselves in, so too must the Gods and Goddesses manifest themselves in a way that is part of the fabric and nature of the tribe or group that calls to them. 

So, for example, the Greek and Roman pantheons, the Irish pantheons, or the Shinto pantheons, are all particular ways in which the Gods and Goddesses manifest and are worshiped by those who know them through those paths.  In a similar way, the Gods and Goddesses manifest in this universe in a way that makes sense for a universe with three space and one time dimension, and that condenses matter out of quarks and other particles.  

This necessity of the Gods and Goddesses adapting, working with, and following the nature of the universe is a radically and fundamentally different view of deity than that of the transcendent religions.  A god that exists somehow “outside” of the universe does not have to manifest itself according to the nature and essence of the tribe of those who worship it.  It is universal.  With all that implies for right and wrong, proselytization and persecution.  Likewise it does not have to abide by the nature and laws of the universe it exists in.  Air, fire, water, earth have no particular association for a transcendental deity.  For the Gods and Goddesses the elements are as much the stuff they must react to and live with as they are for us.  There is no separate law for deity: the laws of the universe apply to deity as much as they apply to us.[14]

So what does interdependence do to the nature of deity, and the nature of religion?

For the Gods and Goddesses it means that they are as much a part of the creation as we are.  They did not “gift” us the universe, they didn’t even give us a gift card.  Instead we can be fine with the current scientific theories about how the universe came into being:  we can’t tell, and in particular we can’t tell what happened prior to the initial singularity.  We can speculate, but that is all we can do right now. 

Even assuming a future scientific understanding leads us back beyond the initial singularity, the nature of the Gods and Goddesses means that their manifestation in this universe will remain the same:  they are part of what came into being after the singularity.  If they existed in some form prior to the singularity, they were still part of whatever existed then.  Creation is as much a “gift” to the Gods and Goddesses as it is to us.  This lack of an initial gift from deity, a creation upon which we are somehow dependent for our existence, suggests a different relationship between the Pagan Gods and Goddesses and those who worship them than occurs between a creating god and its worshipers. 

We are not “the created,” and thus somehow lesser moral and spiritual beings than the deities.  Instead we struggle with them as part of a multiverse that determines what we, and deity, will struggle with.  While, as deity, they are of different form, different wisdom, and different nature than we are, they are not “superior” in that they do not have the absolute perfection of a transcendent deity.  They struggle with evil, sadness, grief, pain, and temptation in ways similar to ours.  Neither we, nor they, are perfect, but they help us understand both the light and dark sides of life, and our natures, and come to acceptance with them.  We are all sparks of starlight, magical beings living in a magical universe.  We are together, with them.

This worldly tie with the Gods and Goddesses is similar to the Christian concept of the Christ, whom god chooses to manifest himself in the world.  Except our deities are all in the world, there is nothing that goes beyond and above that we all somehow owe allegiance to.  Because with creation, there comes mastery and separation.  Mastery of the creation by the creator, and separation between the creator and created.  This can imply absolute moral and spiritual submission to that which is greater.  Because the Gods and Goddesses existence is as dependent on the world as ours is, they cannot claim a moral demand on absolutism any more than we can.

Of course many Pagan paths claim an ultimate creator, a Godhead that exists beyond and above all, that is the ultimate source of all, which is the fundamental mystery.  While my arguments are not inconsistent with that model of Godhead, I would also claim that it is a weaker argument than the one I am making.

I am saying that the mystery behind existence is unknown beyond what is currently know by science.  It is a true mystery, one we cannot comment about.  It is greater, further, and more impenetrable than we can comprehend.  The Gods and Goddesses, as they manifest at ritual and in our lives, are separate and independent deities from that mystery. [15] 

When you argue for a Godhead [16] underlying the Gods and Goddesses you risk, in my opinion, risks falling into one of two theological traps.  The first is that you become a closet monotheist, with the Gods and Goddesses filling the role of angels or other lesser beings that, in turn, serve the Godhead or represent various aspects of it.  This dependence on a universal mover, a universal source for existence and creation, puts you right back at the feet of whatever ultimate Godhead you believe in.  It risks being un-Pagan. 

If, on the other hand, you claim that said Godhead does not really do anything, simply exists as a mysterious, vague, entity that is the ultimate truth (with an appropriate occult name), then I claim you may have just created a meaningless concept, useful only for secret initiations.  If the Godhead is so removed from the practical that it has, had, or will have no effect, it might just as well not exist.  I claim there is no practical or argumentative need for a theoretical concept that does not interact with the world. 

So what does our theory of creation in a Pagan universe tell us?  It tells us that a multitude of Gods and Goddesses can be accommodated in the world, because the Gods and Goddesses manifest within the current universe in ways consistent and dependent on the physics and behavior of the universe.  This dependence, in turn, extends to the manifestation of the Gods and Goddesses in particular pantheons, where they adapt to the way various tribes or peoples view the world.  It also says that our mystical response to the Gods and Goddesses is a form of spiritual aesthetic.  We respond to what we feel drawn to, to what our inner sense of deity and spirit tells us is right.  Because the Gods and Goddesses manifest in so many different ways, that which we are drawn to, our spiritual aesthetic, is a true way in which deity exists. 

Because everyone’s aesthetic may be different, just as there may be different multiverses with different characteristics in terms of space and time, the Gods and Goddesses adapt to those different aesthetics, in the same way they have adapted to the characteristics of this particular universe.  This is neither an imposition, nor hubris.  Once deity becomes dependent on the nature of the universe, as opposed to a separate and apart creator of the universe, then adaptation to the particulars of the part or piece of the universe deity finds itself in is a simple, and I would claim logically acceptable, extension.

We now have another way for Pagans to deal with multiplicity of deity and diversity of worship.  Because the Gods and Goddesses manifest and have characteristics created by the universe, humankind, tribes, and individuals, we can accept that one pantheon or set of deities may be right for one group or individual, but not right for us.  Tolerance again becomes a fundamental, core, value in Pagan theology, a tolerance for multiplicity and independent aesthetic. [17]

So did a water monster create the world?

Yes, and the first people emerged through a reed, and Pele created the world in a lava fight. 

They are all true, because if we assume that the legends and tales are talking about how a people with a particular spiritual aesthetic responded to the Gods and Goddesses they saw in their inner visions, then those stories are true.  And they can all be right.  We as Pagans do not need to impose a view of creation on anyone, scientific or otherwise, because at its heart Paganism understands that reality is multiform, that our core aesthetic responds to many different truths.  We do not have a deadline for creation, for us creation continues in a great circle, with everyone, the Gods and Goddesses and ourselves, riding along.   We all will learn and create with the Gods and Goddesses as we cycle through creation. 

Creation of the world of spirit comes from the stories told, and the stories responded to by the spirit.  The Gods and Goddesses are infinitely adaptable and their enchantment can cover many more realities than we can conceive of.  Magic works, if we stop looking at it as a way to change the world, and instead look at how the Gods and Goddesses will change us. 

©2007 Porphyry, all rights reserved.  


[1] Lakota tradition.

[2] Navaho tradition.

[3] Hawaiian tradition.

[4] Some Christian traditions.

[5] I’ve suddenly switched terminology here from my usual use of the word “Pagan” because I need to keep the distinction between what I term “tribal” Paganism which is associated with a particular people and ethnic background and “global” or “neo” Paganism which draws from a range of associations and tribes in its worship and theology.  Usually I use, and advocate using, the word Pagan in the latter sense. 

[6] Or scientists, but no one seems to pay them much mind on this issue anymore.

[7] For Pagan demographics see Helen A. Berger, et. al., Voices for the Pagan Census, South Carolina, 2003, Table 7 where 10% of respondents said they were computer industry workers, the second highest number behind student.  And Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon,  Beacon Press, 1979, p. 446 where 21% of respondents indicated they were computer industry workers, the top occupation in her survey.  Note that I do not intend to exclude magical, mystical, or divine manifestations here.  The world may very well work that way, but we must make that claim carefully, thoughtfully, and in another column. 

[8] Well we could, but then we’d be writing fiction not theology. 

[9] We will also need to accommodate magic and science, and not through some sort of quantum theory mumbo-jumbo.  I believe we need to take the problem of the relationship between magic and science head-on, and ask what magic is left in the world after science gets through with it. 

[10] There are innumerable words devoted to this debate.  I prefer to listen to those with from good schools with a good publication record.  See, for example,

[11] Here I am making a distinction between the physical reality of the universe (this rock is hard) and the “associative” or conceptual framework of the universe (we have an idea that there is such a thing called “rock”).  I could also introduce a third category, what I would call “legal” reality of the universe (this rock is heavy due to gravity) that relates physical aspects of the universe in the real world.  The Gods and Goddesses obviously need to adhere to all the various conceptual and actual rules about how the universe works. 

[12] Not to mention that time itself is simply a component of the universe, like length or weight, and will effectively end when the universe ends. 

[13] Most stars will be gone in 2x10^14 years.

[14] This is not meant to imply that deity cannot be subject to different or expanded versions of how the universe operates.  It simply means that deities appear to have to adhere to the basic concepts that govern this universe like time, space, and cause and effect.  Of course if there is good evidence of their operating outside of known laws then we will need to revise our understanding, or admit that deity is somehow not constrained in the universe.  As far as I can tell such evidence is not widely available and generally accepted.  A more substantial argument in favor of the deities being under universal natural law is:  that is the price you pay for immanence in the world.  Our Gods and Goddesses are not separate; simply bystanders watching from some high and removed position, they are with us.  Unfortunately that means they fall under natural law. 

[15] Remember, I am arguing that the Gods and Goddesses are real, have independent personalities, and can be interacted with through various mechanisms in the world.  This is a stronger, and more assertive, argument than some make.  See my previous columns on proof or on knowledge or any number of sources on archetypes and various ways in which the Gods and Goddesses can be understood as primarily human constructs. 

[16] There are at least two lines of argument for a unitary Godhead.  One argument derives from the idea of “all is connected, all is part of a whole” meaning that we are all elements in the underlying Godhead (see, for example Starhawk, The Spiral Dance,    p. 32 where she makes the claim the Goddess is all).  The other approach derives from Jungian archetypes and builds up the Gods and Goddesses from an underlying, unknowable archetype (see, fro example Janet and Stewart Farrar, A Witches’ Bible, Phoenix, Harper, 1999, p. 155).  In both cases it seems to me that we can easily ask “so what”?  What is gained by introducing an extra layer of complexity in the concept of the Gods and Goddesses in order to “derive” them from some underlying mystery?  “They exist, and we don’t know why” is a more parsimonious answer.   And more convincing than making something up.

[17] This is by no means a new concept, see, for example:  “’The Pagans were tolerant for the simple reason that many believed their gods and goddesses to be connected with the people or the place.’” — Isaac Bonewits as quoted in Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon,  Beacon Press, 1979, p. 35



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