Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Are the Gods Good?

Something Cei Serith says in his book Deep Ancestors troubled me for quite a while:

 The gods are beings who are powerful, holy, and good.

Do not be deceived by the apparent simplicity of this statement. Ceisiwr (Kay-sure) is one of our deep thinkers, and the fact that he's able to frame complex thought succinctly, precisely, and comprehensibly only adds to the pleasure of encountering his ideas.

Earth, Moon, Sun, Storm, Sea, the Winds, Fire, Animal Life (Him we call the Horned One), Plant Life (Him we call the Green One): the Old Gods, the gods-before-the-gods, the gods of the ancestors. Are they beings? Existent-in-self, yes they are. Are they powerful? By definition. Are they holy? In the sense of being whole, of being radically complete, it seems to me, yes.

But are they good? Does it make any sense to contend that they are? Is the Earth good? Is the Sun good? Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hailstorms, tornadoes, all the natural disasters: terrible things happen all the time. Are the gods good?

Ultimately, of course, we come back to semantics. Can we define “good” in such a way that “the gods are good” is a meaningful statement?

If we mean good in the way in which we apply the term to our own behavior, one could argue not. But I'm going to contend that this reading makes no sense. The gods are not human beings; they are gods. Why would we expect the laws governing human behavior to apply to them? I'd be a fool if I expected a wolf to behave according to human law. A wolf will act like a wolf, in accordance with wolf law. Unto each people, its own law. We must expect the gods to act in accordance with their own law and their own nature: they will, of course, act like gods, not like human beings.

So I will tentatively define the good in the (loosely Aristotelian) sense: the good is that which promotes well-being. Therefore all good is of necessity contextual. What is good for me may not be good for you.

Is it better to exist or not to exist? I would contend that, for the most part, to exist is better. (Not everyone would answer this question in this way; the dharmic religions would say, no, not to exist is better.) But if so, if existence is inherently good, then that which promotes existence must also be good.

In this sense, it is meaningful to say that the gods are good, since they are the very ground, the sine qua non, of existence. Not only would there be no (human) well-being without them, there would be (by definition) no existence at all without them.

In us, material existence achieves self-awareness. That is what we are here to do: we exist to be wise. Some would say that in us, the gods themselves reach self-awareness.

The gods are beings who are powerful, holy, and good.

And we are the wise.

 

Ceisiwr Serith, Deep Ancestors: Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans (2007). Tucson: ADF Publishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Sunday, 29 June 2014

    Its a question of defining "good." In some well known monotheistic religion God is the definition of "good." God is said to be so good he's absolutely perfect. And, good people are those who obey God, and/or what the priests of God tell us to do. Whatever the priests do is "good" by definition.

    Polytheists have a much more complicated question. The Gods are not monolithic and their behavior is erratic, sometimes jealous, sometimes warlike, sometimes spiteful, and often confusing. One God may oppose rape, for example, but another god is chasing nymphs through the woods. One god may be scrupulously honest, but another is going about in a disguise pretending to be someone else. One god is celibate, and the other God is all about drunken debauchery.

    My conclusion would be that not all the Gods are always good. Most are inconsistent, doing good sometimes, and sometimes not so good.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 30 June 2014

    Sounds like you live in a pretty complex world, Greybeard. Hmm, don't we all? Polytheism really does seem to me to do a much better job of describing the world as it really is.

    I'm sure polytheisms have their theological problems too, but theodicy isn't one of them. With god as with everyone else, one always needs to ask, Cui bono? Just because a god tells me to do something doesn't necessarily mean that it's in my best interest to do it.

    What a world, what a world.

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