altar rail

‘But this leaves you in rather a spot, doesn’t it? If Madeline Bassett is now at large, won’t she expect you to fill in?’

'That, aged relative, is the fear that haunts me.’

'Has Jeeves nothing to suggest?’

'He says he hasn’t. But I’ve known him on previous occasions to be temporarily baffled and then suddenly to wave his magic wand and fix everything up. So I haven’t entirely lost hope.’

'No, I expect you’ll wriggle out of it, somehow, as you always do. I wish I had a fiver for every time you’ve been within a step of the altar rails and have managed to escape unscathed. I remember you telling me once that you had faith in your star.’

'Quite. Still, it’s no good trying to pretend that peril doesn’t loom. It looms like the dickens. The corner in which I find myself is tight.’

—  P.G. Wodehouse, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Personal Deity: Neopagan Norm or Evangelical Christian Hangover?

Thinking aloud here, and as ever, having to make large generalisations: Do Neopagans (Pagans & Heathens, as well as other non-Christian New Religious Movements) instinctively reach for personal relations with the divine out of cultural habit?

That culture, specifically an English speaking, generally white Protestant one that emphasises a personal relationship with deity, viz Jesus Christ, still affects those who are not adherents to/of the umbrella of Protestant Christianity, by placing them in a minority status, Even atheists (particularly militant so called New Atheists) seem to relate to divinity in some relation to this culture.

Thinking about it, it seems to me almost as if, without the comfort of established dogma, many Neopagans view divinity and/or the numinous as “about them”, If divinity exists, it “must” be interested in them.

Contrast this with the view of several African Diasporic Religions, wherein the Creator is distant and the numinous is represented/manifest in the form of intermediaries. The lwa of Voudon, as an example, are not gods at all. This is precisely why the syncretism with the Saints happened so easily, because despite Jesus having served as ultimate intercessor for all humanity, there are nonetheless other intercessors/intermediaries in the form of the Saints. One may have a personal relationship with Jesus, and also  any number of saints.

In contrast, having such relations with any other than Jesus is actively discouraged in the majority of the Protestant milieu, unless you are perhaps high-church Anglican (mind you, the Church of England does recognize certain saints and the Virgin Mary but praying to them is distinctly The Old Religion, as it were).

Christianity as we know it today is ultimately founded on the Jesus Is All You (should) Need model, with obvious denominational and theological differences as to what that means and what you should do regarding that fact.

As such, many Neopagans (usually, it must be noted, white and from relatively affluent societies) who reject the JiAYN model often find themselves casting about for divinity which may mimic in some form (or so they believe) a better way to connect with divinity.

At worst, this can result in gods and goddesses being reduced to Jesus(es) in Neopagan drag, or simply not being aware that there are other forms of the numinous, such as genus locii, landwights, ancestors etc. At best, it can cause one to reflect on one’s cultural inculcation.

As I reflect on my post-Christianity life - some 18 +years at this point - it strikes me that Christianity is a profoundly Magical  (and I mean that in a technical sense) religion. A Jewish-originated Mystery Cult turned Imperial State Religion which, by turns politically and militarily, beat, subsumed or sycretized its way to supremacy.

Now, this isn’t to say that pagan religions weren’t magical - indeed much of what we hold to be trappings of Christianity today (altar rails etc) actually came out of contact with so called Barbarians.  But if we compare Christianity to other world religions it becomes fairly obvious that one of the religion’s primary selling points is Ease Of Access To the Divine. Anybody could be an initiate and once initiated, anybody could partake of the central Mystery.

It’s almost impossible to state how revolutionary that was. A religion where a beggar had the same access as a Senator! That didn’t care who you were or where you came from - because the Son of God, his most beloved died for you.

The Protestant Reformation levelled things further - no more were the ritual trappings needed. Just two or three gathered together were enough to summon His Spirit. And anyone could channel that Spirit to speak an inspired way, and even some quarters, perform miracles! No longer was the magical operation of ordination necessary, the Apostolic Succession and other rites were dangerous! Catholics were worse than those Ancient Pagans - at least they had never heard of Christ! They deliberately spurned the Spiritual Gifts in favour of a corrupt Priesthood!  They were actively preventing good Christians from meeting their Lord, and hence were in league with Satan!

And so the narrative went, or, more accurately, still goes in some quarters.

These are the things I’m thinking about -  and I wonder if some of the way Neopaganism is…marketed(?) a la “find your patron deity/spirit guide/appropriated terminology” is, as well as consumer culture, due to the larger Protestant infused worldview. I suspect, for many ancient Pagans/Heathens, gods were not the usual de facto manifestations of the numinous - but rather, dealings with the dead/ancestors and hearth/local spirits were more the norm in many (but not all) cultures. Contact with gods would very well have happened at festival, but intrusions in daily life would probably necessitate a trip to your local spiritual expert.

Is this me advocating for some kind of priesthood? Not at all - in fact I’m generally suspicious of people who proclaim themselves Priest of X, not because I disbelieve their spiritual credentials (that’s another post) but because I always wonder where the community they serve is. Maybe it’s because I’m the son of an Anglican priest, to say nowt of my own spiritual credentials. but I always find myself asking who they minister to!

Having said that, it’s totally unsurprising that new iterations of old things use the dominant culture to orientate themselves. By and large, this website and its users are US based, and America does indeed exert a large cultural gravity which means that it’s influence on Neopaganism is perhaps disproportionate - I’d be interested to survey say, a Catholic, non English speaking country. I’d suspect there might be significant differences.

While not wishing to disparage Neopaganism as an umbrella term, it strikes me, as an operative magical type, that the mythical Old Religion would have been closer to a Catholic or Orthodox worldview - in terms of the veneration of dead Heroes/Saints and places sacred to them. In Britain, as an example, there are far more Sainted Holy Wells than there are Officially Recognized Saints!

Add to this that the majority of witches and cunning folk used pieces of Catholic liturgy and Psalms - including the witches that were hanged here in Lancaster, and one begins to wonder at the irruption of folk magic in the US both during its settlement and also now - a strong thread of Dominionist “spiritual warfare” emerging since the 70′s in the Religious Right, contrasted with an increase in the prevalence of ADRs and Spiritist religions, pus an upsurge in interest in magic.

Tie this Dominionist strain of Evangelical Protestantism to the colonialist attitude of many American settlers, many fleeing religious persecution and one has a climate of, well, almost  (unconscious) entitlement to divinity wherein one has to do very little to gain attention of a deity.

Do we (unconsciously) expect the numinous to appear in a shrink-wrapped, easily digestible packaging? Has Protestantism produced an expectation of a spiritual supermarket? Is this good, or bad?

I wonder…