Dr. Eric Steinhart draws on his philosophical background to create a naturalistic foundation for the Pagan Wheel of the Year. To better understand axiarchism, the philosophy on which Dr. Steinhart draws to create a Naturalistic Pagan theology, see Part 1 and Part 2 of his essay “Axiarchism and Paganism”.
At Yule, all Pagan Naturalists can reflect on the meaning of the Winter Solstice, and, more generally, the meaning of all the solar holidays on the Wheel of the Year. Among all the many ways to be a Pagan Naturalist, and to interpret the Wheel naturalistically, only one can be developed here. So terms like Pagan Naturalism and Pagan Naturalist, when used here, refer only to this one way. This way does not exclude other ways.
At Yule, Pagan Naturalists picture a winter scene: the frozen ground lies bare under the dark sky of the longest night. This is the ground of being, underneath which lies the essential soil, the soil which contains the abstract roots of all things. At Yule, Pagan Naturalists reflect on these abstract roots. These abstract roots are axiomatic propositions, which entail that things exist. These deepest axioms are those of logic and pure mathematics, such as the axioms of set theory, arithmetic, and geometry. For Pagan Naturalists, these axioms are spiritually significant. After all, since the ancient Greeks, rationality and mysticism have been married by mathematics. But the foundational axioms of pure mathematics entail more specific patterns, including all possible systems of physical laws.
At Yule, all these possible physical constitutions lie buried in the darkness of potentiality, underneath the ground of being. One of these constitutions governs our universe. It defines all the ways that complexity can evolve in our universe. Of course, all these constitutions are abstract; as such, they are not physical things. The law of gravity is not a falling body. Although Pythagoreans say that physical existence is mathematical existence, Pagan Naturalists deny this. Pagan Naturalists are not Pythagoreans; on the contrary, they are Platonists, who recognize both abstract objects and concrete physical things. Since physical things exist, there must be some natural law, deeper than any physical law, which brings them into existence. This law explains why there is something rather than nothing. It is the ultimate sufficient reason for the existence of any concrete things.
For Pagan Naturalists, the ultimate sufficient reason for the existence of any concrete things essentially involves value. The study of value is known as axiology, and the demands made by value are axiological demands. An example of an axiological demand is the requirement that you keep your promises. You might not keep your promises, but you ought to. Even if you don’t, the very existence of value, the difference between good and evil, requires that you should. Value makes demands which we ought to satisfy. And value makes demands which reality itself ought to satisfy. It demands that certain situations exist, such as the situations in which your promises are kept rather than those in which they are broken. By itself, value does not produce any situations. It has no creative force. But value gains creative force when it enters into a law which implies existence.
The axiarchic principle* states that every axiological demand is satisfied. Why are there some concrete things rather than none? Because value demands that some such things exist, and those demands are satisfied. Why do these things exist rather than those other things? Because value demands that these things exist rather than those other things, and those demands are satisfied. By means of the axiarchic principle, value gains creative force. Value is the arche, the root of the World Tree. As Pagan Naturalists will argue, the axiarchic principle implies that every possible thing surpasses itself in every way. It implies that if any state of affairs ought to exist, then it will exist. The axiarchic principle is the holy Source of all physical existence. But the Source is not divine. If there are any gods, then they are natural things brought into existence by the Source. Nor is the Source a thought in any mind. It is an abstract law, like an axiom of pure mathematics.
The Source, the axiarchic principle, is a law whose truth is its creative power. Its truth resembles a heat kindled in the essential soil, a heat ready to erupt from the ground of being as fire, a fire which radiates the light of physicality. At Yule, the light of physicality is ready to burst out of the essential soil into the night sky, illuminating all things. The tree of physical complexity, the World Tree, is ready to grow. The emergence of the sun after the longest night signifies the Big Bang, the great release of energy which powers the evolution of complexity in our universe. This sunrise, this luminous gift, begins the waxing period of our universe. This sunrise starts the transformation of potentiality into actuality in our universe; it begins the progressive realization of ever more complex forms, and the conversion of the meaning implicit in the Source into manifest existence. Holy fire floods into our system of physical laws, and brings our universe into being.
*Axiarchism is a philosophical theory which states that reality is ultimately defined by some kind of value. The demands made by value are axiological demands. An axiological demand is a proposition whose truth follows from the nature of the thing which makes it.
Eric Steinhart is a professor of philosophy at William Paterson University. He is the author of four books, including Your Digital Afterlives: Computational Theories of Life after Death. He is currently working on naturalistic foundations for Paganism, linking Paganism to traditional Western philosophy. He grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. He loves New England and the American West, and enjoys all types of hiking and biking, chess, microscopy, and photography.