What are ethics based on?

I often see Pagans, polytheists, and Christians talking about ethics and morality as if they were mandated by a deity, and as if that deity was the ultimate arbiter of what is good.

I mention Christians because it’s all too easy to pretend that Pagans are so much cleverer than Christians — but only because we don’t yet have the Pagan equivalent of a “What would Jesus do?” bracelet (as far as I know).

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First thoughts, second thoughts, and third thoughts

I’ve often said that Terry Pratchett was one of the greatest Pagan theologians, although he wasn’t a Pagan. In his books Small Gods, Pyramids, and the series about the witches, he often explored ideas about how gods might might come into being, and how they interact with the world. He was also, in a quiet and humorous way, a passionate advocate of thinking about things more deeply, looking beyond the surface of things, and being compassionate. (If you missed that about his writing, read it again.)

In the Tiffany Aching series, there’s a great passage about first thoughts, second thoughts, and third thoughts:

“First Thoughts are the everyday thoughts. Everyone has those. Second Thoughts are the thoughts you think about the way you think. People who enjoy thinking have those. Third Thoughts are thoughts that watch the world and think all by themselves. They’re rare, and often troublesome. Listening to them is part of witchcraft.”
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

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Towards an inclusive Wiccan theology

Wiccans can be polytheist, animist, pantheist, monist, duotheist, atheist/archetypalist, or “all of the above depending on the day”. Most Pagans believe that the divine is, or deities are, immanent in the world; and that includes most Wiccans.

This theological diversity works in ritual settings as long as everyone can “translate in their head” and have a certain amount of flexibility as to practice and the wording of rituals.

The goddess Artemis. Photo by Jason Youngman [Public Domain, CC0]

The goddess Artemis.
Photo by Jason Youngman [Public Domain, CC0]

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Connecting with place

One of the key elements of Pagan thought is connecting with the Earth, Nature, and/or the land. As a general thing, Wiccans seem to focus more on Nature, Druids seem to focus more on the Earth, and Heathens seem to focus more on the land. however, there are always individual exceptions to these generalities. I have always felt very attached to the land around me, especially hills and ranges of hills.

The Pagan revival began, in part, because people felt alienated from Nature by the Industrial Revolution and living in cities.

Looking at other indigenous spiritualities and religions around the world, we can see that connection to the land and Nature is extremely important to them. This connection includes awareness of ecosystems, bio-regions, animals, plants, seasonal changes, rivers, rocks, and trees.

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