This short article is an effort to outline some of the basic concepts of Pagan theology on which ADF’s work has traditionally been based. These ideas were developed be early Pagan reconstructionist thinkers, including Isaac Bonewits, and have been the basis of the work of our leaders and Groves through the first decade of our history. These ideas are instrumental in the development of our religious work, and I feel it is important to state them clearly for our newer members.
ADF’s goal has always been to create religious systems that actually resemble those of ancient Paganism. In order to do that we have had to look past the conceptions brought from more popular Pagan systems, from the Hermetic systems, from Qabala or Theosophy or New Age philosophy. Instead we try to examine the remnants of Pagan lore directly, and discover patterns therein that can be distilled into a few simple teachings.
The results of that examination have led us away from some of the more common Pagan theological positions. Our experience in applying those results has taught us that the positions we’ve arrived at are both scholastically accurate and spiritually functional.
Of course I do not present these ideas as prerequisite for membership or involvement in ADF, or as dogmas to be accepted with unthinking faith. But they are the results of our best understanding of the Old Lore, and have been proven to be workable and useful by more than a decade of practical application, and we hope our folk will give them serious consideration.
The Nature Of The Gods
Neopaganism is, at its base, an effort to restore to post-European society the worship of the many Gods and Goddesses that sustained human beings for untold generations before the Christian era. The names and forms of these Divine Powers have their origin in unknown ages, long before the known tribes and nations of Iron Age Europe. As our memory of lore fades into the mist of pre-literate history, we find our selves presented with a fait accompli. The God/desses come to us full-grown, with their tales, symbols and histories partially known and partially hidden. We share with the ancients the pleasure of philosophizing on the origins, nature and meaning of all of existence, including that of the Gods and Spirits, but we can have very limited concept of their ancient origin and development.
The very idea of speaking of the ‘origin and development’ of the Gods bespeaks a certain attitude toward their nature. It suggests that through the human scholarship of history, folklore and mythography we can understand the truth of the Gods’ and Spirits’ nature.
In ADF we pursue this path of scholarship, but not exclusively. While we seek an intellectual understanding of the history and cultural context of the many Powers of Indoeuropean Paganism we don’t stop there. We also try to take the Old Religions at their face value to practice within the assumptions apparent in the lore.
By every bit of this old lore we are convinced that paleo-Pagans believed their Gods to be independent, self-willed, individual entities. They did not think them to be unified in will or intention, but supposed that the Gods and Spirits might be in conflict or in accord, as nature or as humankind may be. The Gods are not always shown as images of moral perfection; they are neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. They sometimes need humankind to help them accomplish their goals, and to need the worship and offerings of mortals to support their very existence. In exchange for the worship and offerings of mortals the Gods use their power to make human life better and the human soul stronger. They play a vast role in determining the way the world goes forward, and may pay greater or lesser attention to humankind, but humankind, and all other beings, are also part of the Way of the World, and can become Powers themselves. Humans, animals, non-animal nature and the many kins of spirit beings all dwell together in the worlds, in patterns of interrelation and mutual benefit.
That said, the Gods are clearly understood as the Mightiest, Wisest and Best of the Spirits. The relative positions of Gods and Mortals varied widely from culture to culture. In some of the early cities of Sumer and Egypt humans were considered the slaves of the Deities, created by them to provide food and service in their temples. But even in such an extreme case the labor and cooperation of mortals was needed to maintain the Deities’ existence.
Rejection of Duotheism
Much of the Neopagan world has accepted the maxim “All gods are one god, and all goddesses one goddess”. This theological maxim was first expressed by early 20th century magician Dion Fortune. She based it on the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the patterns of the Hermetic Qabala. The assumption at that time was that the esoteric teachings of that system could be used to ‘explain’ all other religious and magical traditions. They taught a system that was, at its heart, monotheistic even as they gave more honor to the Many Gods than previous generations of Christian magicians. While the ideas and techniques of the Golden Dawn were an important inspiration to our movement, some of their theologies don’t stand up to the measure of scholarship.
There is simply no evidence of a Pagan culture that conceived of the many Gods and Goddesses as aspects of a single pair of higher Deities. The Powers are truly multiple, really a large (if debated) number of different entities. Attempts to resolve all the figures of the many Powers into cosmic generalizations fail to do justice to the Deities’ multiple potential. It is in the relationships between the Powers that their mysteries lie, and relationship happens only within multiplicity.
So ADF’s rites and meditations address the Powers as individuals. We don’t address entities known as ‘The Lady’ or ‘The Lord’, or symbolize the many Powers as aspects of a ‘greater’ single being. Instead we give each Deity the honor that is their due.
Monism and Monotheism
Pagan Indoeuropean philosophers have often explored the question of whether all individuals in the universe, whether physical beings, spirits or Gods and Goddesses are, at their root, unified in one system or even in one being. The many cultures that share the Indoeuropean heritage have conceived many answers to that question. Some mystical systems have taught that the only Truth in the spiritual cosmos is ultimate and undifferentiated Unity. Others find that the human soul can rise only near to the divine, and that in the end souls are separate though related. Some find Unity in relatedness – teaching that every being and every action are parts of one great weaving, one great dance made of separate individuals.
One notion that does not seem to have a Pagan basis is that the Cosmic Unity is in some way a single being, with a single will and intention. That idea comes only through the monotheistic religions and their influence on Pagan cultures. That influence has been very great, and of course the incessant assertion that ‘God is One’ is still hard to escape in our modern culture. It can be difficult for Westerners to conceive of ‘God’ or ‘divinity’ as anything but single, or at most, dual. Modern Pagans will often feel a need to rationalize our polytheism by holding to the idea that each God or Goddess is ‘only an aspect’ of a greater whole, which is what is truly being worshipped.
It is clear that the ancients felt no such need. While some Pagan philosophers posited the existence of a kind of ‘God behind the gods’, the idea clearly never gained popularity among the people. There are no temples to a unified ‘God’ found in any Indoeuropean culture, and simply no lore to suggest that the God/desses are other than independent persons. Of course they are persons of such vastly greater intelligence, consciousness and ability that their essential nature is beyond any certain common human comprehension. We can only look to what we are taught by the Old Ways to guide us, and the Old Ways make it clear that the philosophical idea of a Unity had no real impact on Pagan worship and spirituality.
So in ADF’s worship and magic we do not commonly address our worship to any single Divine source, or Unity, or any ‘God beyond the gods’. Since there is no evidence that our Pagan furbearers felt a need to make such a concept part of their religion, we see no need for us to do so. There remains a lively debate among our thinkers about the place of monism and Pagan models of cosmic unity. Many feel that the idea has great potential for personal spiritual work, while others find the entire concept a concession to monotheism, with no real place in our Pagan religion.
Ar nDraiocht Fein is fully committed to the Pagan movement. We are building Pagan institutions that we hope will serve our own members and the larger community. But ADF is not wide open, eclectic Paganism. We have a small list of traditions and practices that we feel are definitive of Our Druidry.
Again, it is not our intention to tell anyone what to believe. We encourage our members to go to the sources and to test our conclusions in light of what they find there. In the same way we encourage our members not to accept the common doctrines of the Neopagan movement unquestioningly. We think that an unbiased examination of the evidence will lead to conclusions very similar to ours.
For the past 15 years ADF has done research into what the Old Religions were really like. We have applied that research experimentally in an evolving religious system of ritual, meditation and devotion. The results have convinced us that these few doctrines can be broadly applied across the many Indo-European cultures. We are also convinced that by applying these doctrines to our work we are helping to grow Neopagan religions that more closely resemble the ways of our Pagan forbearers.