Pagan Renewal: A Brief Exposition

If Reform Paganism is, as we say, a new branch of the Great Tree of Paganism, then the living Pith of this branch consists in our conviction, vision, and mission:

We affirm our conviction that all persons possess an innate spiritual capacity rooted in Nature.

We affirm our vision of humanity’s once and future faith, inspired by both ancient wisdom and modern learning, ever reforming for the present and the future.

We affirm our mission to promote the restoration of this timeless faith for the highest good of all.

What does this mean? Where do Reform Paganism’s Fifteen Theses and Five Elements fit? How does all this relate to the Pagan Renewal? Allow me to explain…

Humanity’s Innate Spirituality

When Reform Pagans say that humans are by Nature creatures of spirit, we mean that spirituality has always figured in human existence, even human essence: to be human implies possession of a spiritual faculty. This spiritual faculty, which defies precise formulation in words but which each human person can experience in operation for himself or herself, is what first inspired humans to see the sacred in Nature, and this spiritual faculty remains with us still, even amidst and despite all our attempts to disenchant ourselves and the whole world.

Implied in the claim that humans are by Nature creatures possessed of a spiritual faculty is an observation that we are also possessed of other faculties, which philosophers throughout history have probed, dissected, and classified and which Reform Pagans situate in the metaphorical framework of the classical elements: Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Æther. For Reform Pagans, these elements correspond roughly to human soma or nephesh, comprising sensation, appetition, aversion, etc. (collectively, the faculty of “Body”);  psyche or ruach, comprising reason (“Mind”), emotion (“Soul”), and volition (“Will”); and pneuma or neshama (“Æther”).

Reform Pagans regard these faculties not in a strict, scientific sense (indeed, the very notion of a “faculty” is not a scientific one) but as a useful framework by which to understand the essential human person. And this framework is the inspiration for Reform Paganism’s Five Elements, which together provide what Reform Pagans consider a natural and complete expression of human spirituality.

Humanity’s Once and Future Faith

Human faculties give rise to corresponding human desires, and these to pursuits, which Reform Pagans describe as Life for the Body, Truth for the Mind, Love for the Soul, Power for the Will, and Divinity for the Spirit.

From the beginning, humanity’s innate spirituality has lent itself to worldviews and lifeways that incorporate each of these faculties and their corresponding desires and pursuits, and Reform Pagans believe that we can still fulfill all of our essential needs as human beings through such holistic spirituality, rooted in who we are as humans in Nature. The spirituality that humankind has created—and recreated—from the earliest days of our species down to the very present is Paganism.

Though in some ways our times and circumstances have changed incomparably from what they were in our unremembered past, in other ways we humans remain very much the same, as much animal as spirit. Paganism that allows itself the limitless freedom to reimagine itself—freedom in the security that such reimagination does not weaken this quintessential expression of human spirituality but reawaken and strengthen it—can continue to meet all our human needs today and tomorrow, even into the unimagined future.

A Pagan Restoration

Though Paganism has always offered humankind all we need to flourish in Nature, we have for the most part abandoned our natural faith, originally because the dogmas of “revealed” religion were thrust upon us and more lately because, in the process of rediscovering Paganism in recent years, we have tended to assume that to be a Pagan today means what it did when Paganism enjoyed the preeminent place in human society long ago. This assumption has relegated Paganism today to the fringes of a society that has changed vastly from what it was hundreds and thousands of years ago, and the resulting “Great Apostasy” from the natural faith of our ancestors—a faith not of specific metaphysical commitments, which rise at one time only to fall in the next, but of the eternal human pursuits of Life, Truth, Love, Power, and Divinity—has caused grave damage to individual humans, the entire human family, and Nature’s Creation.

Reform Pagans make healing that damage our mission, and lasting healing comes not from change externally forced—for that which is done by force can be undone by force—but from transformation of the individual and collective spirit that inspires humankind to action every moment of every day. Transformation of the human spirit requires the person’s or persons’ participation, which they may gladly offer if they appreciate the benefits that such transformation promises. Reform Paganism facilitates such appreciation for a contemporary audience by reimagining itself without requiring us to set aside either those things that our ancient ancestors knew better than most of us do now about how to attain Life, Truth, Love, Power, and Divinity or all that we have learned about ourselves and the world around us over subsequent millennia of human development.

Reform Paganism sees the Pagan Restoration not merely as a collateral effect of the Pagan Reformation but rather as an important goal that contributes to the holistic wellbeing of each essentially social and spiritual human being and of all Nature. The Pagan Reformation necessarily works toward a Pagan Restoration because fulfilling humanity’s innate spiritual needs through continuous revival of our once and future faith requires us to work together on this project elaborated in but not constrained by the Fifteen Theses; conversely, the Pagan Restoration serves as the vision that informs and inspires the Pagan Reformation. This virtuous cycle of positive transformation—the Pagan Reformation and Pagan Restoration, linked inseparably—we call the Pagan Renewal.

Also published on Medium.

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