Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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Gods in the Toilet

So, my friend Christopher Penczak wrote something on the whole "are the gods real or not" fiasco, which in my experience has been a tired argument since we started having it.

You can find the link here:

Anyway, I started hearing about this entire fight and all the many dissenting sides of it when I was just beginning my studies in paganism and magic, back in the early nineties.

It was the first indication I had that the metaphysical and occult community wasn't exactly a big happy family- that we were more like a collection of island nations, some which were very similar to each other culturally and philosophically save for a few very specific differences.  And like such nations are wont to do, there is commerce, interbreeding, and also discord between them.

We in the magical community tend to cross-pollinate at this stage of our interaction: old Irish pagans start using the Qabalistic Cross for cleansing, not because it's part of their authentic cultural background (although it may be, in that region), but because it's close to something else they are prone to using, such as the high ceremonial aspect of Catholicism.

Or perhaps the Norse reconstructionist's borrowed use of trance-possession work, which does not actually have a historical basis in fact so much as a vague impression of 'something more' in the realm of seidh.

It's irrelevant, really.  The spiritual practices of all cultures are a growing and living thing.  And while I find it valuable to check your sources and verify authenticity for posterity, I don't find it to be as imprisoning a cage as apparently others do.

For example, on the subject of Hard Polytheism (the gods are individual gods which are real and solid beings) vs. Soft Polytheism (the gods are faces of divinity and therefore one god-mask may work as good as another), I didn't bother arguing with people.

I just asked the gods themselves.

My experience led me to a vision of one of my deities laughing at me so hard that it became hard to treat the argument seriously.  In the end, I landed in a place of "Yes, gods are all simply masks for the divine... just like mortals are.  And try telling them that."  After all, you wouldn't go into your grandmother's house and look her in the eye, and say "Well you're just a symbol for the whole family.  Myeh!"

Well, I wouldn't.  Not because it isn't accurate, or even maybe kind of funny.  But mostly because my grandparents wouldn't get the point of what I was saying, and therefore there's no reason to say it.

The gods are the gods- they represent a deep and great mystery.  We find those same mysteries in everything we do and experience; from the kiss of a lover, to the laugh of a child, to a sunrise, to the trickling of water over a stony creek bed.  That's the point of having an immanent spirituality.  You never leave your 'church,' because it's constantly around you.

And that brings up the idea of sanctity- when is something sacred, if everything is sacred?

For me, I've always had a sort of Virgo approach to it- it's not that something isn't divine all the time, it's merely that sanctity happens when that divinity is in the proper place and arrangement for alignment with a Greater Mystery.

In other words- a place for everything, and everything in its place.  You don't put poop on the altar, and you don't put your altar tools in the toilet.

Christopher makes a great point in his article:

"To me, a lot of the talk is very religious and, although I helped found a religious non-profit, I would say I’m not a person of faith or belief. My religious experience is of a mystery tradition, of a more mystical nature than sheer belief. I believe in experience, and feel there are many ways to define the experience, but the experience in consciousness is what really attracts me to this path."

I feel similarly- I'm not a 'faith' person.  I'm a careful and practical thinker, and I would much rather test theories and experience things than simply invest faith in something. 

This is not because I dislike the concept of being faithful or having faith.  It's because I've learned that faith is actually a very powerful thing, and it is meant to bridge the way to making your dreams come true.

I tell my students in the very first class: learn to discern between faith and knowledge.  And the way to do that is simple: if you have to believe in something for it to be true, it isn't.  Truth needs no bolstering- it is self-validating and empowers those who learn it.  Faith is only used to bolster lies or dreams.  A lie is something which is not true.  A dream is something which is not true yet.

Faith is certain.  It leaves no room for doubt- in fact, inserting doubt into faith destroys what faith has created.

Knowledge is the opposite- it is FILLED with doubt, or at least uncertainty.  There is always room for future discovery with knowledge; it is a matter of finding questions, not having answers.

For myself, I've always found it easier to simply experience things, and let that inform me to the next thing to ask and discover.  I don't bother "landing" on these kinds of issues, because they're opinions, and that means they're by their very nature formed on a biased foundation.

And in the meantime, I just make sure to keep my altar tools out of the toilet, and when I want to know something about the gods, I ask them.  I mean, I assume they would know.  And if they didn't, they're probably not all that god-like, are they?

What are your opinions and thoughts on this?  Care to share?  Leave a comment below, and please remember to be respectful- this issue is a hotbed of conflict for some people.  The comment-space is for comments and discussion, not argument.  And yes, I will delete comments I find unhelpful to positive discourse.

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S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno. He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.


  • Stephanie Noble
    Stephanie Noble Wednesday, 19 June 2013

    Thank you so much for this. I agree completely and I don't feel it could have been put any better. What drew me and many others to the craft was because of its experiential nature through individual experience. Therefore arguments over nitty gritty details make little sense, as it goes against the Pagan idea that one's magickal path is their own. After all, we make students seek out leaders because we do not proselytize. We encourage them to go through extensive practical experience. Often, we recommend copious amounts of reading to even decide if they want to follow this path. And after all that, who are we to transcribe their magickal experience to fit our own?

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Sunday, 23 June 2013

    I couldn't agree more, Stephanie.

    Pretty much the only time I feel the need to step in and 'correct' someone is if they're trying things that don't seem to work. And that's the busybody teacher in me, so I rein it in as much as possible. *chuckles*

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