Or Having Your Spiritual Cake and Eating It Too!
Note: This essay was published as part of Essays From the Universe Experiencing Itself available on Amazon.com.
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” — John Lennon
In the beginning, humanity created the gods and the spirits… or so the story goes. Primitive people looked out into the world and saw many things that confused and scared them, so they attributed unseen qualities to what was around them, creating the first “spirits” of nature. This philosophy, called animism, was the first spirituality humanity embraced at a time when we still hunted large animals as hunter-gatherers, and still hadn’t adopted agrarian farming practices — to largely brew beer, the true foundation of civilization.
In time, these spirits became gods, and these gods were all too human: vain gods, benevolent gods, cruel gods, foolish gods. All were attributed dominion over the uncontrollable aspects of the world and life. These gods became pantheons of deities, and changed as cultures grew and fell… as well as evolved into other cultures. Much of the stories of these deities appeared in the earliest writings, their stories evolved into parables and later “teachings.” We’d invented the first revealed religions, where the laws of the gods were laid out, codified, written and those that opposed a specific Word of God™ were wrong and worthy of punishment and death. Sadly, humanity still hasn’t grown out of this arrogance.
For many spirituality is a shackle, and for others a release. Nearly all of our holidays and festivals have ancient roots in old pagan holy days, celebrating the wheel of the year, the change of the seasons and the events of the gods. Modern day Christmas’s date corresponds to the birth of the Zoroastrian sun god Mithra, a competing religion back in early Roman days with Christianity. Easter derives from the early Germanic goddess Ēostre and her spring equinox fertility festival. Trees, boughs of holly, candles, flowers, rabbits, eggs, crops and harvest are all inclusions of older pagan festival celebrations. But in reality, we as human beings need reasons to celebrate. The drudge of education, work, exercise, taxes and seeing the ugly things people do to one another can truly take its toll on us. Looking forward to a barbecue, large family dinner or simply dressing up as a sexy superhero for a holiday party can add a bit of zest to an otherwise monotonous existence.
Spirituality can add a source of personal power in an otherwise powerless life. Relying on a source of strength, hope and inspiration can truly help when we are struggling. The ancient gods and spirits represented archetypes and energies — feeling lonely, appeal to a love goddess; feeling weak, appeal to a courageous hero; feeling poor, appeal to a prosperity saint. Wearing a symbol, sigil or mandala associated with one of these archetypal sources of power became an amulet for them, despite the fact that we are the source of that power and it’s the belief in that which shapes our actions.
But what is the nature of the divine? Is it entirely a creation of humanity or is there something to it? I’m a firm adherent of evolution, as it’s beyond a belief: vestigial organs and reflexes, goosebumps echoing back to when our mammalian ancestors had fur, and the fact that our second chromosome possesses the split denoting our clading off from the rest of our fellow great apes are just some of the absolute proof of the common ancestry of life on our planet. Strong adherents of many revealed religions are resistant, if not combative, about accepting a human origin story that is not inscribed in the words of their own dogma, but our genetic code sings our true epic in undeniable prose.
When younger, I was very much a theist, that is believing in the concept of a personal divine. I wanted to feel as though there was somebody upstairs that was making sure everything worked out well for me. I prayed, believing that my prayers would be answered, though usually that answer ended up being a no. In time I grew from a monotheistic (one god) view of divinity, to a polytheistic pagan (many deities) view. I loved exploring paganism, more correctly neopaganism. I studied, practiced and later taught about Wicca, druidism, shamanism, divination, pathworking, ritual construction and magick (the “k” to separate it from stage magic). I loved the trappings of pagan rites, adding a bit of spice to the more socially acceptable rituals of communion and prayer — plus you got cool new toys to play with! Celebrating the harvest, seasons and wheel of the year made spirituality fun and enjoyable, rather than a means to alleviate guilt and fear of a horrific afterlife punishment by a hypocritical “loving” deity. I read as much as I could about all the world mythologies, enjoying the amazing stories that they had to share.
I eventually came to the personal conclusion that the divine couldn’t care less about me. I liken it to two sports fans praying to the divine for their sport team to win the next match, when in reality a divine spirit able to create the incomprehensibly large and vast universe we live in couldn’t care less about our paltry desires. With an estimated two trillion galaxies in the observable universe, each having on average 100 billion stars, with those stars having possible planets that could have also evolved life in some form, thinking any deity no matter how omnipotent could care about the individual needs and wants of a single human, just one species of the nearly nine million on our little world, with a population of 7.53 billion humans… is beyond arrogant and naive. Put simply, we are insignificant in even the most inflated view of our place in the universe. The divine is most likely too busy smashing distant galaxies together at the moment. This view of a detached elder creator spirit is the essence of a spiritual philosophy called deism.
I attempted to be an atheist for many years, since my love of science made it initially easy. After a few years, I was starting to question that line of reasoning. There are many things that are weird and amazing about our universe. The nature of evolution seems to be more of tinkering, rather than a celestially divine plan, but some truly beautiful things have evolved. The intricacies of the dance of sub-atomic particles mirror the celestial interplay of cosmic objects. There almost seems to be a plan, though very remote and subtle. There are those weird personal experiences, when you think about someone and out of the blue they call or message you despite not having talked in a while. Those moments where you are convinced something else is in the room with you while you are alone. When in a conversation someone completes your sentence or says the exact same thing you where going to. Also, there are those moments where everything seems like you are being looked out for, as significant streaks of luck occur in your life. There seems to be a little magick in the world, not contained in the laboratories of science. Meaningful coincidences, labeled synchronicity by the psychologist Carl Jung, can happen at a much higher rate that statistically likely.
What if I’d missed an obvious connection here? Why couldn’t evolution and the big bang exist with a dispassionate creator spirit? What if on some subtle level of existence beyond our own, a spiritual energy of some form coalesced into a point of physical reality, and expanded and an incredible rate, creating particles, energy, basic elements and the first stars? What if this spirit sought to grow in some transcendent way, with the stellar explosions of those first stars causing the atomic fusion that created heavier elements to create clouds of stardust that would later collapse into planets, so this spirit could grow and evolve itself? What if this impetus of growth caused the first protein molecules to chain together and self replicate, later to form protective molecular shells and evolve into living single cell life forms. What if the universe, evolution and life are merely the expression of this growth, from a subtler level of reality for an ancient spirit to know itself? What if the only true word of god is etched in the laws of gravity, electro-magnetism and nuclear attraction? This is the heart of pandeism, that everything is divine and everything is connected, but we are nothing but infinitesimally small components of that non-personal divine spirit.
But this doesn’t have to be a depressing thought. If we are part of the divine, then we have part of the divine nature. We can create, as well as preserve and destroy. Every piece of music is a creation. Every poem, every written word, or even turn of a phrase is a piece of creative divine magick. It was with this understanding that I realized that the philosophy of pandeism could blend quite beautifully with paganism, also known as pandeistic paganism.
The simplest definition of pandeistic paganism, is essentially having all religions and none, accepting the potential of all spiritually, without adhering to a personal concept of the divine. The acceptance that all spirituality is created by humanity in an attempt to understand existence, and that evolution and physics are the mechanics of that existence is a remarkable blending of magick and science. We can embrace kinship with all life on this planet, and that everything is inherently sacred as it’s part of the divine, but also quite mundane as it’s part of the universe. This allows us to pick and choose from all of the world’s spiritual cultures to find a path that defines us, for whatever purpose we wish. By adopting a catma, instead of a dogma, we can have something independent, personal to our needs and which instills a great deal of enjoyment. To give an example, I’ll share my personal approach to pandeistic paganism. Again, this is my own personal take. Feel free to borrow from it, but I have no interested in mandating it for anyone else.
Personal morality is really quite simple, and I pattern it off of a simplified Wiccan rede: Do as you wish as long as it’s not hurting others. Many religions limit the food you eat, the sexual intimacies you can enjoy and even the words and thoughts you are allowed to have. In modern day settings, these are more means of controlling adherents, via guilt and a need for absolution simply because you are human. Some will ascribe immorality to the eating of certain meat and animal products, but it is very possible to eat meat in a reasonably cruelty-free manner if you are willing to research what you eat and how it is cared for in life. Personally I only eat fowl and seafood, due to environment and cruelty considerations, cholesterol concerns and nutritional content — but I often chose the newer vegan meat replacements too. Sexual activity between consenting adults is not wrong, despite some believing that their own personal discomfort of thinking about how, and whom with, others couple should determine what intimacy should be against their laws. This world could definitely use more love and definitely is in need of better sex. When it comes down to it, if you basically try not to be a jerk to others by your actions, respect and ask for consent in your more personal dealings and try to make the world a better place for the rest of us, you have a better moral base than many who claim to be devoutly devoted to their divine.
I celebrate all the spirits. Across the world there are many sources of power to tap. I don’t believe these to be intercessory or inherent divine, but they represent archetypal concepts that I may wish to embrace from time to time. Calling on the memory of a beloved ancestor, the strength of a mythological deity or even the passionate nature of an animal spirit can imbue a sense of change within you, whether only as a placebo or calling on possibly some of that mysterious cosmic power. Who really knows, but it can be enjoyable and it’ll personalize your purpose for celebrating the year. I perform entertaining little rites for the full moons, the equinoxes and solstices and the mid points in between, such as May Day and Halloween. I celebrate traditional holidays such as Easter and Christmas, and culturally contrived ones such as International Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19th) and Star Wars Day (May 4th). The point is to have fun with it, and make the year enjoyable, with silly moments to look forward to. Hey, it’s my party, I can wry if want to.
I believe in a more organic form of reincarnation and karma. I believe in the butterfly effect, in that small actions cause greater impact globally in time. A smile I share with someone in a down mood can have incalculable effect as their lifted spirit can be transferred to others exponentially. Be cruel, and it has the same effect but in the negative. As for the nature of the spirit after life, I liken it to the fact that in any reaction, energy is neither created, nor destroyed, but merely changed. So what of the spiritual energy of the soul? Do I believe in a past life I was someone famous like Marie Antoinette or Alexander the Great… no. I don’t believe our soul, if it truly exists, goes on complete to any one future person. Everything recirculates in this universe. Heck, the oxygen we are breathing once was in the prehistoric lungs of a dinosaur. What I believe is that I have some part of the souls of others from the past, so maybe not someone famous, but maybe it was John Henderson, frontier blacksmith… or maybe Agnes Smith, scullery maid? I hope I’m taking good care of their legacies.
I pattern the forces of change after mathematics and physics. The concept of sacred numbers and geometries have been used since the first humans could count on their fingers. These formed microcosms, conceptual ideas that pattern the greater world and universe, or macrocosm. I have a preference for threes, based on the primary forces of creation, preservation and destruction. Many take on a dualistic view of good vs. bad, us vs. them, left vs. right which inherently forces views to strong binary positions of opposition and conflict. I like the balance of three with triplicity (or triality) that is inherent in older spiritual beliefs, such as the maiden-mother-crone goddess concept, along with Western alchemical energies, Vedic gunas, etc. I also like other prime number microcosms, such as the five elements of Western and Eastern philosophies as well as the seven levels of chakras, early known planets or levels of the Kabbalistic tree of life. The associations of all of these can become symbols to focus on for meditation and introspection. Association is the heart of mysticism, and taking control and directing those associations to change yourself is the core of sympathetic magick. Does it matter, really, if it’s scientifically proven, so long as you feel you have a bit of control in your life and it gives you a means of personal power? Psychologically speaking, a little optimistic delusion can be very helpful in a rather drab existential existence. If it works, why not? If not, at least you enjoyed the process.
The idea of the one true religion is common among the vast majority of religions. Amazing how all of the many branches of all those many religions, as they formed different sects and denominations, and grew, dare I say evolved, into different views on spirituality… incredibly make the one true religion the one that is prevalent in the geographical place you just happened to be born in? Spirituality doesn’t have to be a bland meal plan when there’s a bountiful buffet to choose from.
I choose to live, love and laugh in my spiritual life, with a little magick thrown in for spice… and to just sleep late on Sundays when I can. We all have the divine within us, so make up your own rules. I can guarantee you aren’t going to Hell, Heck or Hades when you die, so why live there in life.