Category Archives: Reflections

Pagan Renewal: A Brief Exposition

If Reform Paganism is, as we say, a new branch of the great family 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 religion 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.

Love: A Reform Pagan Perspective

Love is a discipline the mastery of which makes us more powerful Pagans and humans: Just as our power grows as we acquaint ourselves more deeply with Nature, Truth, the focus of Will, and our True and Higher Selves (or “inner divinity”), so our power grows as we acquaint ourselves more deeply with Love. For Love, like Truth, is a position of strength.

When Reform Pagans speak of “Love” rather than “love”, we are referring most often to something that approximates what the East has called “compassionate lovingkindness and sympathetic joy”. Such Love comes upon us, for example, when we appreciate that every being is equally a child of the Goddess and the God, that we all come from the same origin and go to the same destination in Nature, that we all belong to and remain ever within and part of the same sacred Universe.

A capacity for Love is innate in the human spirit. But that capacity reaches its full potential only through intentional practice. Learning how to deploy Love in all circumstances, toward all beings, means that we possess such psychic fortitude that no contrary or adverse power can ever succeed in assailing us. This is perfect Love.

Neopagans often declare an intention to circle in “perfect love and perfect trust”, but Reform Pagans speak more often of circling in “perfect peace and perfect trust” because, whereas peace and trust depend on mutuality and reciprocity among individuals, as among those gathered to circle, Love can attain fullness in the unilateral disposition of a single person, regardless of whether others reciprocate. We cannot assume the existence of peace and trust among persons until we declare these as a shared intention, yet we can—and do—assume that each of us has chosen a path of personal and spiritual development that requires us to learn to express perfect Love.

For Reform Pagans, then, Love is not an imperative to which we must begrudgingly submit but a virtue that recommends itself to us by promising to make us greater, stronger, more complete persons.

Transhumanism: A Reform Pagan Perspective

Prevising Transhumanity

The twentieth century revolutionized humankind’s understanding of physical reality by shattering certain assumptions: We learned that certain properties of phenomena in spacetime—theretofore assumed to be constants—actually vary, relative to the observer’s perspective (the relevant constant being rather the speed of light), and we learned that matter and energy—theretofore assumed to be different—are actually equivalent.

Analogously, the twenty-first century is revolutionizing our understanding of our own human reality: We’re realizing that humanity itself—heretofore assumed to be like a constant—actually varies, relative to the observer’s perspective (the relevant constants being rather Nature itself and accelerating human and technological change therein), and our conceptions of humanity and technology—heretofore assumed to be different—are converging toward creator–creation unity related to (perhaps even resulting from) the Singularity, a general artificial intelligence that bends back into itself with the capacity of limitless self-enhancement.

Reform Pagans appreciate that human spirituality arises from, and remains inextricably bound up in, human nature—to be fully human is to be a human spirit, a brief and accidental emergence from the physiosphere and biosphere into the noosphere. Yet Reform Pagans also profess “Realism” and “Eternalism” as two of our defining Fifteen Theses. How do we reconcile the observation that the transhuman era is approaching with the assertion that Paganism is humanity’s once and future faith? Can any religion or spirituality, Paganism included, survive the advent of the Singularity, creator–creation unity, and the passing into obsolescence of humanity as we know it?

Yes, in fact, Reform Paganism is particularly well suited not only to adapt to and survive the great changes to come from “transhumanity” (as a possible future objective reality) but also to answer the questions left unaddressed by “transhumanism” (as a present subjective persuasion).

Reconciling with Transhumanity

We say that Reform Paganism arises from, remains ever within, and returns us to Nature, and our vision of Nature is one of parallel planes or concentric spheres of existence, each emerging onto the next: the physiosphere giving emergence to the biosphere, the biosphere giving emergence to the noosphere.

Accordingly, Reform Paganism professes, as one of our defining Fifteen Theses, a “Holism” that manifests itself in our Five Elements of practice, which together address all of the spheres of human existence. By these Five Elements of practice, Reform Paganism promotes “spiritual development”, an ineffable kind of experience that cannot be defined but can be described, however imperfectly, as a subjective “falling into place” of pieces—within oneself (soma and psyche), one’s community, and all of Nature—that didn’t seem to fit together before. This “falling into place” involves an increase in internal order (within a human spirit) vis-à-vis objective phenomena that need not reflect a commensurate increase in external order.

Reform Paganism views spiritual development as an outgrowth of universal evolution, evolution across all spheres of existence, which can be viewed also as an ingrowth of the involution of the Universe. Reform Pagans view Paganism as the “natural” human spirituality, in that Paganism is the self-expression of the human spirit inspired directly by our lives in Nature—Paganism is the purposeful reconnection of the noosphere with the biosphere and the physiosphere.

Human achievement of creator–creation unity (i.e., transhumanity) marks simply the emergence of another sphere of existence, one with no widely agreed-upon name, one that I call the “theosphere”. And as Reform Paganism purposefully reconnects the noosphere with the biosphere and the physiosphere, so it will purposefully connect these precursor spheres to the theosphere—the purpose of spirituality, particularly of Reform Paganism, is spiritual development, and that means the purpose of spirituality is to cause the various pieces of our lives scattered across all our spheres of existence to fall into place.

Complementing Transhumanism

Today, transhumanism (as a subjective persuasion, a political or philosophical position) serves as such a source of inspiration for some proponents that they see no further need for spirituality. But transhumanism fills this need today only because we imagine that transhumanity is an objective to be achieved, a possible future reality that has not yet come to pass. If we achieve technological immortality of soma and psyche, what more life could a transhumanist desire? If we connect our brains to computers, is a transhumanist forever consigned to pursue more external drives and processors?

In the measure that transhumanity becomes our present reality, it ceases to inspire, unless we wish forever to play a Red Queen Game of ever-expanding means with no end:

“[I]n our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else [] if you run very fast for a long time[.]”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

—Lewis Carroll,
« Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There »

Reform Paganism offers transhumanism a context for its pursuits: spiritual development. Any person who can remember even one moment of attaining a new spiritual insight, of witnessing the pieces of our lives “fall into place”, can understand that spiritual development is desirable as an end in itself—without telling us what further end, if any, we should or must pursue in life, spiritual development yields an immediate sense of fulfillment. And the enhancement of human capacities that transhumanism works toward would expand our possibilities for such spiritual insights.

Reform Paganism is no enemy to transhumanity, which fits within the Reform Pagan understanding of universal evolution and involution, and no enemy of transhumanism, the present favorable disposition toward future transhumanity; rather, a future of transhumanity has much to offer Reform Paganism, and Reform Paganism has much to offer today’s transhumanism.