HP Pride is a new monthly column where we interview members of the Humanistic Paganism community and other like-minded friends. One or more interviews will be published every month. If you are not a “Big Name Pagan”, or if you have never written online before, all the better! We want to hear from everyone! If you’d like to be interviewed, just click this link and follow the instructions.
Meet Philip Kanellopoulos
What do you call the religion you practice?
I practice Deiwosism — named after its pantheon of goddesses and gods known collectively as ‘Deiwos’ [DEY-wohs], which is a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European word and the world’s oldest known word for ‘god’. (www.deiwos.org)
If you call yourself “Pagan”, what about your religion is “Pagan”? Why do you choose to call yourself “Pagan”? If you don’t call yourself “Pagan”, why not?
For me, to be ‘Pagan’ means to believe that the universe is divine, alive, and populated with many gods — (that is, pantheistic, animistic, and polytheistic). Ample evidence exists that human beings naturally evolved to hold such “primitive” beliefs. They are part of our birthright and enduring strategy for survival, and so we discard them at our peril. Deiwosism represents an attempt to better reconcile Paganism with our modern, scientific view of the cosmos. Many thoughtful Pagans hold that such reconciliation is unnecessary, that no actual conflict exists. They quite reasonably view Pagan gods as physically unreal, metaphorical only, existing as poetic symbols comfortably confined to the psyche, and they maintain the sufficiency of such a view for our spiritual needs. In their expansive appreciation of the mystery of existence, they may well be correct. And yet, I believe that any properly functioning mythology should provide some better spiritual connection to contemporary models of physical reality. I believe that a more intimate integration of the physical and the spiritual is both possible and desirable. In the Deiwosist view, the Pagan gods are physically real. They are expressions not only of our minds but of the whole of creation as well. They are future facts who imprint themselves not only in our dreams but also in the very fabric of reality.
What other words (i.e., humanistic, naturalistic, atheistic, pantheistic, witch, druid, shaman, etc.) do you use to describe your religion and why?
I would further describe Deiwosism using the words naturalistic (relying on scientific explanations of reality), interfaith (celebrating all of the world’s religions), teleological (positing future “causes” of reality), panentheistic (that the divine transcends our universe), postbiological (that the fulfillment of our destiny may ultimately lie in our progeny), democratic (celebrating the sharing of power among everyone), pluralistic (celebrating all faiths, cultures, ages, ethnicities, sexes, genders, and identities), and progressive (in its concern for environmental sustainability and economic and social justice). I might also use the word Jungian (in that the various goddesses and gods of Deiwos resonate with Carl Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious).
What is your religion of origin? What religion were you raised with?
I was born and happily raised within an authoritarian/capitalist/atheist ideology, which, whatever its merits, is nevertheless a faith-based system of belief. It’s amusing to me that at the time we all thought of ourselves as irreligious, and yet we were as devout in our faith as any fundamentalists.
How did you transition to your current religion? Tell us a little about your faith journey.
In my mid-twenties, I fell seriously ill. The lack of emotional support from family during the crisis ultimately resulted in my suffering a stroke at the age of twenty-eight. The ordeal convinced me that the myths and ideologies by which I and those around me had been living were woefully inadequate. I intentionally set out in search of some alternative that would be both more natural and more nurturing. I felt that whatever I was to personally believe would need to be at least consistent with contemporary science. I began reading everything I could find about cosmology, anthropology, depth psychology, mythology, and comparative religions (both monotheistic and polytheistic). Relying on the life’s work of countless brilliant scholars, scientists, mystics and prophets, I labored to assemble a new mythology that would somehow attempt to honor both science and faith, both physics and metaphysics. After twenty years of careful searching, I finally found an answer that satisfied my own spiritual yearnings and standards.
What makes your religion a good fit for you?
Deiwosism fits with my love of speculative science, of Pagan mythologies, and of progressive and democratic values. It presents me with a vision of the world in which all living things are sacred — indeed, in which the universe and everything in it are alive and thus sacred. It lets me see the interconnections in a cosmos in which everything is conscious, and in which each of us is a small part and intimate expression of a greater whole.
How do you practice your religion?
I meditate for several minutes every evening, contemplating various challenges of life and praying for guidance from Deiwos. In addition, because the goddesses and gods of Deiwos speak through the prophets of all the world’s various faith traditions, I study their sacred texts looking for nuggets of wisdom, inspiration, comfort, and understanding.
Do you observe the Wheel of the Year? If so, how?
For yearly rituals, I’ve adopted the Gaian calendar, coordinated with the cycles of both the sun and the moon, in which the specific days of the solstices and equinoxes are celebrated. The Gaian year 0 [zero] occurred the same year as the first Earth Day (March 21, 1970), so the current year is 45 E.G. (Epoch of Gaia). In the evening of every solstice and equinox, I light a ceremonial candle — outside, weather permitting — and briefly pray for guidance from the particular patron goddess or god of that new season.
Do you believe in or work with “gods” or “deities” or “spirits” in any sense of those words? Why or why not? If so, how?
I do believe in the Pagan gods of Deiwos. That being said, my belief is not absolute and does not conform to “belief”/“disbelief” polarities. Mythologist Joseph Campbell described what he claimed is a common feature of primal societies, what he called “the belief that is not quite belief”, something perhaps unfamiliar to many of us in the West. I believe in the Pagan gods, and yet I willingly but conditionally suspend any disbelief, for the purposes of comfort, guidance, and wisdom. In this way, I feel a stronger connection to the wonders of existence than I otherwise might feel were I to regard the deities as exclusively metaphors. Nevertheless, the deities are a vehicle to insight rather than an insight in themselves. I believe the purpose of religion is not necessarily to provide spiritual proof, but rather to blur the lines between faith and despair.
Do you believe in or work with “magic” in any sense of the word? Why or why not? If so, how?
I personally don’t believe in magic. Deiwosism endeavors to be consistent with modern physics, which suggests — (when Einstein’s general relativity is reconciled with a many-histories interpretation of quantum mechanics) — that we live in a wholly deterministic world of parallel realities. Therefore, I don’t petition Deiwos for intervention but rather for guidance. My own prayers are about listening rather than talking.
How does your religion affect your daily life or your state of mind?
From moment to moment, I feel Deiwosism provides me with a way to interpret the events and circumstances of my own life in a greater context, helping me integrate them into a larger understanding beyond my own personal troubles and concerns. I’m more at peace with life than I was before. Because the goddesses and gods of Deiwos are ultimately the architects of reality, I can play my part joyfully with a certain detached participation and acceptance of the inevitabilities of life
Do you interact with theistic Pagans in religious community? Do you share ritual with theistic Pagans? What has been your experience in this regard?
I’ve lived with and among theistic Pagans over many years, including participation in various rituals. Because I’m a theistic Pagan myself, my experience of any disagreement has been with non-theistic Pagans. They’ve met Deiwosism with a degree of healthy skepticism. Still, I believe that any religious views that serve to enlighten, heal, comfort, and inspire can be legitimate. My primary purpose in sharing Deiwosism is to present it as just one option among many.
How do you engage other Pagans online?
The Pagans I’ve engaged in online forums have tended to be advocates of what I might describe as Gnostic Paganism — that is, a belief that the Pagan gods inhabit a spiritual realm separate from the material realm. This admittedly provides an explanation for the absence of evidence among the physical sciences for the everyday existence of the gods. Indeed, such matter/spirit dualism is actually a fairly elegant solution to the problem of maintaining theism in an age of reason, and yet I regard it as ultimately unsatisfying. The solution offered by dualism may succeed in sidestepping Paganism’s potential conflict with science, but I prefer attempting to meet the challenge more directly. Because of the surprising hostility within some Internet forums toward unconventional approaches to Paganism, I’ve begun to view my participation in those forums as needlessly disruptive and unproductive, and I’ve lately tended to avoid them. Given my desire for community, this ideological rejection has been a source of considerable disappointment to me.
Are you “out of the closet” about your Paganism? To what degree? Why?
I’m largely out of the closet about my Paganism, except among the few less tolerant members of my extended family.
What is the thing you love the most about Paganism?
What I love most about Paganism is the feeling of connection it gives me to things ancient and enduring.
What is one thing you would like to change about Paganism or the Pagan community?
I would ask of them the same thing I would ask of all of us, including myself — that we all challenge ourselves to be more open minded about beliefs and ways of being that may be different from our own.
Do you have a favorite quote regarding religion?
One from Joseph Campbell that might be particularly pertinent here is from page forty-three of ‘The Hero’s Journey’: “I don’t see any conflict between science and religion. Religion has to accept the science of the day and penetrate it to the mystery.”
Thank you for allowing me to share my spiritual views with you!
Deiwos: a Pagan Religion for the Future….