In developing my own non-theistic or naturalistic spirituality, the issue of deity was one of the most difficult to address.
As I wrote in my first post, the idea of nothingness – or that which is beyond infinity – is something that really captures my imagination, and trying to contemplate it generates a very powerful sense of awe for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about what deity meant for me – I had turned to atheism when I decided that I did not believe in a creator or a conscious, controlling god, or any sort of being or entity in the way that most people seem to view deity. But in a philosophical sense, I found it hard to pinpoint whether there was some other essence that transcended these aspects which could be defined as “deity”. I eventually came to the understanding that for me, if there was to be such a thing as “deity”, it would be quite simply the essence of existence, or the force that propels it and makes it so.
Originally, I used the name “Gaia” to delineate the Earth and life. This idea was based on the Gaia hypothesis, the concept of Earth as a living system or organism. However, I realised that this idea of connecting to the web of life that is Earth was not the type of connection I was trying to achieve, and did not quite fit with my personal definition of deity. Although I have a great wish to feel connected to the rest of the physical matter on Earth, this idea of deity had to be more basic, more overarching.
An ancient presence
And so at first I turned to acknowledging an “ancient presence” similar to the Dryghten as acknowledged by traditional Wicca, alongside Gaia or Earth. But this distinction between Gaia and the essence of existence of the universe troubled me. If the Earth could be one large living organism, an overarching system in which smaller organisms interacted with and affected their environment, then why stop at Earth? Although “life” as we define it has not yet been found beyond our own planet, the creative energy that propels us forward is not by any means confined to life. As organisms, we evolve in a sort of spiral where our species dies and is reborn but develops further with each physical reincarnation – but this cyclical creativity is evident across the universe. All matter in the universe conforms to the same laws and powers – and the same force of creativity has propelled everything in it.
I realised that this essence of existence that fascinates me is not the matter of the Earth or the universe, but its energy. Made as we are of the same basic kinds of particles that rocks, and space, and stars are made of, we can feel a connectedness with all matter. But it is not as inert matter that we feel this connection – it is in the process of life and of unfolding that we can touch the All.
So for me, Gaia became the All. She became the force of the universe that has sent it pushing out from its microscopic beginnings to the unimaginable vastness that it is today. She became the creative cycle of annihilation and rebirth, not just on our own planet, but throughout the universe. She is therefore the interconnected web that is life on Earth, and simultaneously the interconnectedness of everything in existence.
Along with acknowledging this interpretation of Gaia, I also acknowledge forces that are similar to the “virgin” and “crone” of the triple Goddess – the force that propels new life into existence, and the force that pushes it back into the All in death. I identify these as light and dark, as the urge to be and the urge to return, as the individuality of the Self, and the releasing of the Self back into the abyss of non-being. But drawing these together is the Mother that is Gaia – the creative process of the universe of which we are all a part.
Áine Órga: I practice a that spirituality is very much earth-based, and the wheel of the year I follow is for the most part the same as that of modern Paganism. My self-identification as a Pagan has been gradually solidifying over the past year, and so too has an uneasy balance between my emotional pantheism and my rational atheism.I seek a connection with the divine Cosmos on an emotional level, but I am sceptical by nature, and have a tendency to believe only in what can be proved or at least somewhat backed up by modern science. My spiritual practices are therefore largely metaphorical. However, I feel that religious or ritual observance and meditation is an important aspect to human nature, and find it emotionally and psychologically beneficial.
This post was first published at The Spinning of the Wheel.
Check out Áine Órga’s other posts:
How can we value nature in a way that doesn’t reduce it to the stuff of matter?
A tropical rainforest ontology: In search of a non-reductive naturalism, by John Halstead
Appearing Sunday, September 8th, 2013