Steel is tested and shaped on the anvil. Here, we try every Pagan idea on the anvil of history, hammered by insight and intellect, to forge a Pagan Future.

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Sam Webster

Sam Webster

Sam Webster is a Pagan Mage, one of the very few who is also a Master of Divinity, and is also currently a Doctoral candidate in History at the University of Bristol, UK, under Prof. Ronald Hutton. He is an initiate of Wiccan, Druidic, Buddhist, Hindu and Masonic traditions and an Adept of the Golden Dawn founding the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn  in 2001. His work has been published in a number of journals such as Green Egg and Gnosis, and 2010 saw his first book, Tantric Thelema, establishing the publishing house Concrescent Press. Sam lives in the San Francisco East Bay and serves the Pagan community principally as a priest of Hermes.

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Last call at the Arkadian Anvil

Gratitude and humility are the defining feelings at the end of this stage of the journey. This is the last Arkadian Anvil post on Witches & Pagans. Special thanks to Anne Newkirk Niven who invited me to this channel. My own work is shifting. I must consolidate my public writing for a time and so I must say good bye to this wonderful audience.

It has been a pleasure and an honor to discuss our Way with you. I am deeply grateful for the attention you have given me. Your input and feedback has been instrumental to my ongoing cogitations about how to explain/express our religion.

What we produced was a broad outline of *a* systematic theology for Pagans. The main failing of any such project is that the standard understanding of the job of systematic theology is to produce a clear and definitive set of doctrines for a religious community. For Pagans, like the Hindus, this is impossible. Like determining the location of an electron, we can only say that our theological positions occur within a general range of views, but there are be significant outliers as well. Probability is not a normal tool of theology, but for Pagans surely a range of ideas and the tolerance of ambiguity is our norm. Likewise, as our many-threaded Way is a part of a critique of Modernism, so our framing won’t always fit the Parmenidean laws of thought: Are the Gods one, two, many; forces or persons; psychological structures, wholly external, or principles of nature? However contradictory it may be, our theology must be able to give a resounding “Yes!” to all of these and yet be not devoid of reason or critical thought.

You, dear readers, have been helpful in tracing out the ranges of Pagan religious thought. I hope to publish a thorough work on this in the near future. Your contributions here will make it a better work. Thank you.

Next, I will be continuing my public writing on The Wild Hunt starting May 24th and carrying on every 4th Saturday. The working title is the Arkadian Observer, and I hope to provide historical and theological commentary on contemporary Pagan issues. Hope to see you there…

There is something truly Pagan, something unique and new in our world, that is what we are. We have a unique position in history and I believe we have a special role to play in shaping a successful future for all that lives on this world. Let us build that Pagan Future.

But for now, Thank you and Goodbye!

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Webster, You are the man! I always looked forward to your posts here, and will avidly read your contributions to "The Wild Hu

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Supernatural, not really…

The 'supernatural' is often considered the sine qua non of religion. Certainly the Gods and Spirits must be considered supernatural, yes? Well…not necessarily.

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  • Richard Norris
    Richard Norris says #
    Aquinas, of course, based much of his work off of Aristotle, who was previously considered a kind of Platonist. Aristotle suggest
  • Sam Webster
    Sam Webster says #
    Richard, Thank you for your comment. There are a number of us working out a philosophical basis for our Pagan ways. Posts here, a
  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy says #
    never been one to use the term supernatural. if it happens it's natural. anyway. why can't 'matter' or the physical be independent
Pantheon Foundation: building 21st Century Pagan infrastructure

When talk is not enough, it is time to build.

This month, with the Claremont Conference on Contemporary Paganism and PantheaCon, I’m taking the month off from my regular blog post to announce the formation of a new Pagan service organization: the Pantheon Foundation.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Hi Sam. Looking at your web materials the initial organization appears to be very heavily focused on CA/Bay Area leadership and m
  • Sam Webster
    Sam Webster says #
    Thanks, Graybeard. Yes, most of us are Bay Area and Jason of The Wild Hunt is in Eugene Oregon, but that aside, you are right on b
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    So, Sam. Does that mean you are starting out by excluding all the pagans who have different views on so-called "social justice" a

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Kinds of Knowledge

Different kinds of knowing, each having their own veracity and value, are to be cultivated and used appropriately. However, there is one kind of knowing we should avoid as much as possible: belief.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Webster, Thanks for another really interesting post. That is a bit of a trick, trying to unlearn the notion of 'belief' in th

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A Question of Charity

What is the place of charity in Paganism? Are we MIA or running cloaked? Do Christians have a monopoly on helping the poor or do our sacred stories enjoin us to help? But more importantly, what is the right thing for Pagans to do?

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  • Kellia Ramares-Watson
    Kellia Ramares-Watson says #
    Mr Ward. I stand corrected. Atheists have become a prominent presence in the adopt a highway program nationwide, but not always w
  • Kellia Ramares-Watson
    Kellia Ramares-Watson says #
    Dear Jamie, While I think work is necessary to deepen our human experience and to provide goods and services to ourselves and our
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Ms. Ramares-Watson, Well, best of luck with that. Sorry for the accidental double post, by the way.

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Gods! Hard or Soft or ???

Are the Gods individual Beings or Cosmic Forces or Psychological Archetypes? Or are we just sticking Them in Boxes?

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  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy says #
    heh, this compliments Ivo's offering here: http://www.witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Culture-Blogs/paging-thoth-athena.html
  • Kalyca Schultz
    Kalyca Schultz says #
    This is such an interesting--and sometimes polarizing--discussion amongst the Pagan blogosphere, and I've been wanting to engage f
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. Webster, Thank you for saying what needs to be said. I was thinking similar thoughts the other day, when I was reading a we

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Ancestor Worship & Dealing with the Dead

Ancestor worship has become a popular topic in the Pagan community, but it is worth noting that it is not universal, or necessarily normative. It can also lead to some problems. . .

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  • Neil Pitchford
    Neil Pitchford says #
    There is one aspect of ancestor interaction that you haven't raised here (possibly because you are not familiar with it) and that
  • Shodo Hathos
    Shodo Hathos says #
    When you have no ancestor practice or training in ancestor work to then give advice on ancestor practice seems presumptuous at bes
  • Phaedra Bonewits
    Phaedra Bonewits says #
    I think the custom of naming our spiritual and intellectual influences as "ancestors" is an artifact of not having ancestor revere

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Religious biological determinism is racism

Religious biological determinism, the idea that your race or ancestry determines who you should worship, is just racism by another name, lies beyond the pale of Paganism, and is not to be tolerated.

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  • Ian Phanes
    Ian Phanes says #
    The gods of my ancestors are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every ancestor I ever knew, and every ancestor they ever knew, was
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Well, Ian, some of my ancestors were tried and sentenced to hang for being Witches, a crime they admitted. Some of their other de
  • Pegi Eyers
    Pegi Eyers says #
    There is only ONE issue here, that is, that a group within the Asatru community are white supremacists. All of us, progressives,

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Abortion Rights are a Theological Battle

As you probably know there has been a powerful and effective move on the part of the Republican party to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive health services at the state level since the 2010 elections. What drives this is a theological notion that amounts to the establishment a religion in violation of the 1st Amendment of the US constitution. Those who object to the imposition of restrictions on access to abortion should recognize that it is a theological battle. Come see why. . .

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  • Rick
    Rick says #
    I would argue that almost all legal differences of opinion such as this have theological roots. For those of us that have a theolo
  • Rick
    Rick says #
    I would argue that almost all legal differences of opinion such as this have theological roots. For those of us that have a theolo
  • Herb
    Herb says #
    I don't think you'll find much disagreement with your thesis on this forum. However, it begs the question: Where do you set the ag

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UPG: an ugly, misguided notion

“Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis” as a term is dismissive and insulting, but worse it turns us away from the only spiritual reality…experience.

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  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Sam, it has been a long time, glad to see you are still fighting the good fight. Thank you for the spiritual ardor yr post demonst
  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus says #
    I agree, and have written similar things in the past... It amazes me how often "That's UPG," or even just the phrase "Your person
  • Scott
    Scott says #
    PSVL, your observations suggest to me that (a) we don't fully grasp the context of the ancients in this respect - remember, they w

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Pagan Values, Pagan Morals

Please excuse the delay of our intended post on the supernatural. That will come next month. However, due to the Pagan Values Blogject event this month, I have decided to weigh in on the topic.

I have previously touched this matter in some of my previous Arkadian Anvil posts: Better than Belief, Evil, Ethics and Freedom, and God’s Boredom or Why we are not Enlightened. . .

But today I wish to look directly at the idea of values through the lens of ethics and morality. . .

If we want to discuss Pagan values first we need go back to a much older mode of thought. To do that we need to first separate Ethics from Morals.

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  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    Thank you for your insights. I enjoyed this piece.

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Is Nature Enough?

Paganism is often described as religion of “Nature Worship” or as “Earth-Centered”. Is it? Should it be? Is Nature, in how we use it, a euphemism for the wilderness, or the biological, ‘living’ part of the world, or is it a name we put on the world as a whole? Is Nature big enough for it to be a descriptive characteristic of our group spiritual life? Much depends on the definition of Nature. . .

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  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton says #
    Following Gary Snyder, I define "nature" not as trees and flowers merely, but as all processes outside the control of the human eg
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    There is so very, very much we do not know about the interwoven web of life that we call Nature. The sustainable and ever-changing
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Good to hear, Sam. Glad you like the essay. I read it as suggesting I was at the end of a continuum the other end of which was tho

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Transcendental Hogwash

Or, How Transcendentalism and Panentheism are theological notions unworthy of contemporary Pagans.

The view I take in these matters is Pantheist, which simply stated is the intuition that All is God (from Pan = All, Theos = God), for whatever value of ‘God’ you care to apply. Many Pagans today hold to some variation on this perceptive. The Pantheist view makes ideas like Transcendentalism and Panentheism logically untenable, and they have some further consequences for Pagans that make it worthwhile to remove them from our thinking.

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  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Addendum: This is Whitehead and Hartshorne's view too. They describe a God in "dipolar" terms, having two natures: eternal and te
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    I don't think you can dismiss panentheism by reducing it to the logical fallacy you described. I'm not as smart as Spinoza or Har
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Thanks! That was quite interesting and thought-provoking.

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Worship—a choice of Gods

Worship is the defining act of religion. Doing theology or philosophy is like reading the recipe, but worshiping is cooking and eating the meal. Only one of these two approaches is nourishing. Worship has many grades and equivocations, but is really constituted by a simple idea, one that is very important for us to understand if we want to talk about doing religion, or for that matter spirituality. We are fortunate to speak English as our word here discloses the essence of the act: ‘worship’ is etymologically ‘worth-shaping’. To worship is to declare, espouse, inculcate and promote the value (worth) embodied in that which is being worshiped. What we worship is what we say is good. The ‘good’ constitutes the values by which we live our life, embodies the character or spirit which we make part of ourselves, and the values we want more prevalent in our world. This makes worship unavoidably political. It is also a reciprocal process in that what values we really have are what we worship by our daily actions. Therefore it is vitally important that we understand what it is we worship and how we worship. You have a choice of Gods. Pause a moment before reading more: What do you worship?

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  • Editor B
    Editor B says #
    I find this fascinating. Thanks for writing it up. Like the people Kraemer describes, I too tend to shy away from the word worship
  • Editor B
    Editor B says #
    (To further clarify: It's the phrase "object of worship" that confounds me. I want to emphasize my participation in process, and n
  • Sam Webster
    Sam Webster says #
    Thanks for your comment! Our language is a subject object language. I'll direct you to the full jargon description to move into p
God’s Boredom or Why we are not Enlightened. . .

Why are we not enlightened? In this case I mean why do we not experience ourselves, from the moment we are conscious, as an inalienable part of the Divine, with all Its resources and presence? Our fears and worries tell us that we are not immortal, omnipotent, omniscient, etc, etc. . .even when we know we are part of the Divine. We don’t feel it, at least at first. I think there is an explanation, and it’s a good one, if a bit weird. But, it requires a suspension of our assumptions to understand it. So, please give me a chance to lay it out. You see, God was bored. . .

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  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Sam, you make this "Lonely God" argument well, and it’s one I’ve considered carefully. It certainly gets high marks on my list of
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Great article; loved it.

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The Gods Themselves

What of the Many Gods? Are they really all One? Are they distinct individuals? Is it the same deity in many cultures? We continue our development of a Pagan Systematic Theology by addressing the Gods Themselves and some thoughts on how to think about our work with Them.

 

One of the really great questions humans have been working on for literally ages is “Is the World One or Many? You can find a long tour of this process in McEvilley’s “The Shape of Ancient Thought” [The kindle edition is cheap!]. We can see even in stone age mythologies efforts to express the general intuition humans have of the unity of the world. 

 

Philosophically this is called ‘monism’ and all the great religions that develop deep self-critical literature have some form of this stance. The One of the Neoplatonists, the Tao, Shunyata for the Buddhists, are all very different ways of apprehending that unity. It is possible to confuse monism with monotheism as some scholars are doing today. (See Athanassiadi’s "Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity".) But as soon as you have other Deities in the system, as did the ancient Neoplatonists, it can’t be monotheism, which is specifically the rejection of all deities, except one. Indeed, in the ancient world Christians were considered and referred to as ‘atheists’ because they denied the Gods.

 

We discussed the world from the viewpoint of its simplicity and unity in my last blog-post, now we need to turn to its divine multiplicity. Gnosis published an early effort of mine on this subject in 1993 (What is Polytheism and how I became Polytheistic). Those were not bad ideas, but I would like to take a different tack today. . .

 

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  • Scott
    Scott says #
    A couple of thoughts on your proposed structure here: First, I'm not sure that your chain of progression here accurately represen
  • Sam Webster
    Sam Webster says #
    Scott, Thank you for your comments. There are a variety of understandings about the nature of the Henads. My interpretation is fa

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(Dissolving*Becoming by Jan Betts)

As promised, I’m beginning below the process of building a positive notion of the Divine, a constructive, systematic, theology. Of course, this is built on my own thoughts and views developed from my studies of science and the humanities, informed by the various theologies and narratives I have been exposed to. It is the output of that internal discussion and so I’m not constructing this as an argument, rather as something of a discursive story.

I presume your milage will vary, and well it should. I’m not writing this for you to agree with me (although you are welcome to), rather as an expression of my thoughts on the matter and as an example of one way to do this. We can debate forever, but at some point we need to make and here is my current product, ever subject to change. Frankly, you should do this for yourself, based on your own foundation. Nor do I claim the below is complete. I expect to be adding to it as time goes on and this is just the first layer. There are many issues with the Divine that need to be discussed but that won’t happen in one blog post. For now I simply invite you to read, reflect, and if you wish, respond.

 

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Theology is God-talk

I’ve very grateful for all of the on- and off-blog posts to me about the question of evil. It is gratifying to know that I’m being read. Before we go deeper into specific subjects, I want to take a step back and gain some perspective on our project. This blog is an experiment in what is technically called Systematic Theology. It is systematic in that it endeavors to cover core issues pertaining to a religious tradition, here Pagan, in an orderly, coherent, where appropriate rational, and hopefully complete way. This is different from Practical Theology, which has to do with applying theology to life (although we’ll do some of that too). Practical theology has a variety of sub-disciplines like pastoral, political or liturgical theologies, dealing with theology in the context of the practitioner’s service to a population, or in application to political or social discourse, or with respect to ritual practice, respectively. But now, I want to talk about the idea of theology itself.

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  • Christine Kraemer
    Christine Kraemer says #
    Sam, I'm delighted to see you writing on this topic. I have an introduction to Pagan theology coming out from Patheos Press this f

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Evil, Ethics and Freedom

Theodicy, the theological study of evil, is one of the stumbling blocks of religion. I have a few thoughts on the subject, which I doubt will end the matter, but perhaps shed a certain Pagan light on it. In general theodicy is trying to answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Because God wills it,” to test or to strengthen the adherent, or “Karma,” the result of past actions, are two of the more popular answers. As a Thelemite, I am not so interested in what happened but in what to do, so I tend to look at this from the other side: “How do I avoid doing evil?” This leads me to a systems-analysis approach to evil that shows how hard it is to avoid doing Evil, but there is some hope in that too.

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  • Tom Terrific
    Tom Terrific says #
    Coincidentally, this subject came up a few days ago on a Pagan board I frequent. I offered my view and was excoriated by one parti

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Better than Belief

In our culture belief is the sine qua non of religion. We talk of ‘beliefs’, and ‘believers’, and ‘other beliefs’, as synonyms for religious doctrines, adherents and other religions. The problem with this is that only one religion on the planet actually cares about what you believe: Christianity. Most other religions relate to their doctrines or practices in very different and sometimes contradictory ways, such as having several unresolved and conflicting opinions in one person. For them, this is not a problem, but for Christianity it is. The history of Christianity is mostly about disagreements in doctrine and who had to flee, hide, fight, be killed, or submit to whom, about it. It is true that across human history religion has been an excuse for war or plunder, but that was usually about resources or dominance and not about technical points of theology. Christianity is different.

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  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy says #
    heh, the old 'faith vs works' debate...
  • Peggy Andreas
    Peggy Andreas says #
    That was a very interesting read, thanks. My own take on this is something I've understood since reading Starhawk's "Spiral Dance
  • T. Thorn Coyle
    T. Thorn Coyle says #
    Sam, this was nicely written. Thank you. There are two quotes that I return to again and again on this matter: Joseph Campbell's:

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