Humans are, by Nature, creatures of spirit. Our archaeological record, particularly at Göbekli Tepe, suggests that before even we grew crops to feed ourselves or built permanent dwellings and settlements, Nature called us to worship together; civilization did not predate worship, but our commitment to communal worship may have brought us civilization. Whatever other faculties humankind possesses and has honed over time, one of the primary and defining ones has always been our innate spirituality.
At times throughout our history, we have consciously favored other faculties—reason, emotion, etc. But never have these fully circumscribed, supplanted, or rendered superfluous our faculty of spirit. The sensations it presents us are primary—not composite of intuition, emotion, or anything else—and elude reduction to a single, universally agreed-upon definition. We simply experience it as it flows through us. And our knowledge of it consists in our experience of it.
We have an innate need to experience in ourselves Nature’s flowing spirit (literally, “Awen”), and it does flow through us, and never will we tame, arrest, or contain it. To grow and develop this connection within ourselves to Nature’s flowing spirit is what Reform Pagans mean when we consider the first of our Fifteen Theses, referred to for convenience by the word “Naturalism”.
“Naturalism” & Metaphysics
Our usage of “Naturalism” thus does not conform to a common definition of the word. In particular, the “metaphysical naturalism” of materialism, which affirmatively denies the existence of anything other than the material world, is not Reform Pagans’ “Naturalism”. A Reform Pagan may be a materialist in this sense, but submitting to such a worldview as orthodoxy is not required.
For different Reform Pagans, the flowing spirit of Nature inspires different metaphysical and theological responses. Some of us respond with atheism or nontheism, others with pantheism or panentheism, still others with animism or polytheism. Each of these can equally express a returning of the divinity within to the divinity without. And as life is a process of constant change and development, so an individual Reform Pagan’s metaphysical and theological response to the flowing spirit of Nature may change over time.
By coming together in worship amidst this flow and change, Reform Pagans challenge and support each other in our individual and collective spiritual journeys, pilgrimages, and quests, not despite our shifting differences in opinion but by virtue of them. The effort is difficult, and it is sacred.
“Naturalism” & Civilization
Similarly, our “Naturalism” does not imply wholesale rejection of civilization and permanent return to the wilderness out of which our ancestors at Göbekli Tepe gathered to worship. “Naturalism” means, rather, filling ourselves with the flowing spirit of Nature, the ultimate progenitor of all human religion; Nature is what we find at the original source of human inspiration and the end of our every desire.
Admittedly, too often we allow the artifacts of civilization to displace Nature in our lives today (as if this were truly possible). But as coming together for worship at Göbekli Tepe perhaps laid the foundations for civilization, so civilization per se is not a perversion but an extension of Nature. Pagans before us have worshipped in temples of human construction as well as in sacred groves. Civilization is perverted when one human faculty—whether emotion, reason, or otherwise—usurps and enslaves the others, reducing the multidimensional richness and ambiguity of human life in Nature to linear motion in one direction along a single axis.
For Reform Pagans, “Naturalism” means transforming ourselves and our civilization, through the exercise of our innate and indelible spiritual faculty, into ever more an outpouring of Awen, inspired by and conformed to that flowing spirit of Nature.
Also published on Medium.