Skip to content

Naturalism and the gods, by Glen Gordon

May 6, 2012
Sunset on Water, by Virtually-Supine

“Deities are processes which superimpose and overlap each other in complex patterns of creativity.”

Having a naturalist sensibility, I find supernatural concepts of deities within paganism difficult to accept. Having been unsure if concepts of deities are applicable or valuable, I drifted towards an agnostic humanism. Exposure to the blending of process theism and religious naturalism in Karl E. Peters’ book Dancing with the Sacred reawakened my interest in polytheism.

By applying naturalistic process theism to polytheism, I find deities are processes which superimpose and overlap each other in complex patterns of creativity, and ceremony is a powerful method of actively participating in any given process.

Process theology emphasizes God as the act of becoming, and moves away from God as an omnipotent being. In this regard, god is found in the events which shape our experiences and initiates change in our lives.

Religious Naturalism finds value in religious expression and experience and holds the natural living-world sacred without supernatural intervention.

Peters combines the two perspectives by seeing god as continuous evolutionary creativity. Thus, god is found both by the scientist seeking to understand the building blocks of life and in the religious experience longing to understand humanity’s place within the cosmos.

Upon reading Peters, my thoughts wandered to the groupings of atoms that create matter, the weather cycle, evolution of lifeforms, and human expressions like art, literature, and music, as being processes in their own right.

Into action

As a member of a group of pagan and naturalist Unitarian Universalists, I began implementing these concepts into group ceremonies. One ceremony revolved around the planting of native seeds at our UU church. We spent a week preparing the ground with meditative intent. In song and dance, we sowed the seeds under the night sky of the autumnal equinox.

These experiences helped me understand myself as an active co-creator within the processes of the natural living-world. Having combined my efforts and will with creative evolutionary processes, deities were no longer individual personal beings but processes toward which I contributed in active participation.

Beyond anthropomorphism

These realizations had me question the usefulness of anthropomorphism as a means of deification. Giving deities human-like forms made sense at one point of human understanding. The primary experience represented in a deity is easiest to access through human action. Perhaps to understand how deities worked, they gave them human form.

The downside is these images became the focus of worship. In a post-modern context, with our expanded understanding of the world around us, a focus on anthropomorphism feels outdated. It can help us understand processes related to the human experience, but limits us to a human-centric understanding.

Seeking the transpersonal

The idea of transpersonal psychology is to explore the impact of experiences which transcend the phenomenon of ego and otherness. A transpersonal relationship with a deity expands our experience through action. The deity is no longer a vague idea of the sacred, but a continuous experience of co-creation that is malleable and present within each passing moment.

This contrasts with the need of many Neopagans to seek interpersonal relationships with deities. In my experience, images may become useful in identifying and understanding the process of deities, but is not static representation, nor should they be the focus of worship. I prefer seeking a trans-personal relationship that allows me participation in the sacred process that is the deity.

Naturalistic polytheism

Seeing deities as active creative evolutionary processes broadens my views on ceremony and the religious experience. Because of this, worship is not passive, but an active expression of co-creation with the universe and natural living world.

I refer to this approach as naturalistic polytheism. It has allowed me to acknowledge that the scientific and the sacred are not contradictory, but part of each other.

Perhaps, in taking a naturalistic perspective of deities and mythology, the traditions of the past can come to life, and help us develop new ones specific to who we are as humans today.

The author

Glen "Fishbowl"

Glen Gordon writes about animism, religious naturalism, and Unitarain Universalism on his personal blog Postpagan.com™. Under the name Fishbowl, he has participated in the broader bioregional animist community at gatherings and in internet forums. As an active UU, He has given sermons on bioregional animism at his local UU church in Northern Idaho. The video Biorigional Animism in Five Minutes features the words of one of his sermons. He also co-facilitates a The Palouse Nature Covenant, a group of pagan and naturalist UU’s exploring themes of nature and ecology through worship.

About these ads
18 Comments
  1. May 6, 2012 9:44 am

    Great article, looks like I’ll be picking up Dancing with the Sacred once I finish up my current read.

    “I prefer seeking a trans-personal relationship that allows me participation in the sacred process that is the deity.”

    I was wondering if you had any examples to share on this?

    I feel like I work the same way. I do use images often, but I typically do so to evoke a connection to what the deity is representative of/embodies. A good example for me is if I have a project going where I’m blocked and need inspiration, I often think on Odin and the myth of when he won the mead of poetry. In this way, I use Odin as a focus point for me to draw out inspiration and get the creative juices flowing. This is somewhat a personal invention, especially seeing how most of my work is visual art and not “poetry”, but I’ve taken poetry as a broad term and also look to his association to frenzied inspiration in such situations. Is this similar to what you meant by trans-personal relationships as opposed to anthropomorphism? Or am I way off the mark on this one? It seems like you may be going further with it than what I’m grasping.

    • May 7, 2012 4:31 pm

      Thank Ryan. Good question. The ceremony we performed planting native seeds for autumn equinox is a good example. To me, interpersonal relationships is more how you perceive what you are in relationship with. Where I see trans-personal relationship an active participation that allows you to “escape your head” sort of speak in a kind of mindfulness.

      Your relationship with Odin is a good example of what I am talking about. I wold say the trans-personal is when you “get the creative juices flowing” at that point, you have become an active contribute to art/poetry/creativity which is part of the process of Odin. Does that make a little more sense?

      Using your Odin example and being a Poet. To me the god is not as much Odin as Poetry itself. Poetry not being the words on the page which make up a poem, but the act of poetic inspiration or any creative inspiration. You know that moment when inspiration to create something hits you but it hasn’t made it out of you onto print, in clay, on canvas, or what other medium you use to create art? That moment is, for me, a trans-personal experience with a creative evolutionary processes.

      • May 7, 2012 6:39 pm

        That is right on with what I was thinking — thanks for elaborating. This is exactly how I view the mythic forms I use. That moment of inspiration you mention is a perfect example.

  2. May 7, 2012 9:50 pm

    Ryan, this was a great post! I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about interpersonal vs. transpersonal relationships with deity/the sacred. Can you elaborate more on what you mean by the transpersonal?

    • May 8, 2012 12:06 am

      I borrow the term from psychology, describing one’s self-awareness extending beyond the self. In an earlier post on my blog, I try to differentiate between the interpersonal and trans personal.

      here is the link, if you’re interested:

      http://postpagan.com/5vApk

      to summarize, I see it like this;
      interpersonal relationship would relate to their deities in more human to human terms and focused upon individual perception of the deity. A transpersonal relationship extends beyond individual perception of a deity bypassing the ego.

      Have you ever lost a sense of yourself in a moment of awe and wonderment by a sunset, or a flock of geese, or running into a wild animal, or witnessing a natural disaster, like a forest fire or tornado — Where in that moment you are aware of how integrated you really are in the here and now? To me, that is the transpersonal.

  3. May 8, 2012 10:34 am

    Glen writes: “Deities are processes which superimpose and overlap each other in complex patterns of creativity.”

    Gregory Bateson speaks of “the Pattern that connects,” which seems to me much the same idea that Glen presents. This Great Pattern breaks into multiple smaller patterns and processes, so it is both one and many.

    Physicist speak of the Theory of Everything, which would represent an accurate delineation of that pattern, but a reductionist science would reduce Pattern to mere pattern, as is its way. We need a mythic poetry to keep the pattern whole and holy.

    I think Glen’s words “patterns of creativity” are key. A lot of naturalistic people I’ve communicated with are hostile to the idea that this Universe is creative. For the life of me, I can’t see how it can be denied. (The fruit trees are in bloom, what more evidence does one need?) Human creativity, intentional creativity, is but the latest emergence within Nature of a novel creative process.

    Ritual probably originates as a creative response to our situation within the great Pattern of things. Unfortunately, it tends to ossify and lose its creativity. A modern ritual, I would hope, could be like Nature itself — based on a pattern, but an evolving, dynamic, ever-creative one.

    • May 8, 2012 1:35 pm

      Thomas -> “Gregory Bateson speaks of “the Pattern that connects,” which seems to me much the same idea that Glen presents.”

      Interesting, and yes sounds very much like what I am getting at. I am going to look into this further. Thanks for bringing it up.

  4. M. Jay Lee permalink
    May 13, 2012 6:57 am

    I like your concept of naturalistic polytheism, and I agree that “in taking a naturalistic perspective of deities and mythology, the traditions of the past can come to life, and help us develop new ones specific to who we are as humans today, which see deity not as being but as processes.” The gods of ancient polytheisms were deeply associated with place and their stories, festivals and images were interwoven with the rhythms of life in the tribe or village. I draw a lot of inspiration from studying ancient polytheism, but I think to really be true to the spirit of ancient polytheism we need to focus as you say on process, on developing our own relationship with the sources of sacredness within our own place and time. I look forward to reading more about your ideas on Postpagan.com.

    • May 13, 2012 7:50 am

      >I think to really be true to the spirit of ancient polytheism we need to focus as you say on process, on developing our own relationship with the sources of sacredness within our own place and time.

      Good point. One of the historical tidbits that inspires me in that direction is the fact that when ancient Greeks established new colonies, they didn’t retain the festivals of the old city but created new ones. To me, that illustrates the spirit in which we can create new ones appropriate to our time, places, and rhythms today.

      • May 14, 2012 10:40 am

        Thank you M; It is good to know these thoughts are appreciated.

        BT; It wasn’t just the Greeks either but most European cultures seemed to follow this kind of pattern in the past. I want to find a way to best honor my European ancestry and feel strongly the best way to do so is to begin from where I am living and breathing here and now instead of trying to reach into the past of a different time and place.

  5. May 13, 2012 8:03 am

    Just wanted to note that John’s written a highly relevant post at Allergic Pagan which analyzes and praises (with a few quibbles) Glen’s PostPagan project:

    http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/post-paganism/

Trackbacks

  1. Naturalism and the Gods, featured at Humanistic Paganism « PostPagan
  2. American Neopaganism, Part 3: Past, Present, and Future | The Allergic Pagan
  3. “Post-Paganism” | The Allergic Pagan
  4. Upcoming work « Humanistic Paganism
  5. Next Post « Humanistic Paganism
  6. Naturalism and the Gods – No Unsacred Place
  7. Postpagan Ceremony & Ecology, by Glen Gordon: “Why I Am Not Pagan” | Humanistic Paganism

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 644 other followers

%d bloggers like this: