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 Archetypes?

If I could zap one word from the pagan vocabulary, it would be “archetype.”

Don't ask me what it means. When I press people for a definition, they're mostly hard-put to provide one. So far as I can tell, archetypes seem to be something like Platonic Ideas.

If so, what does it mean to say that the gods are archetypes?

Me, I'm an Old Style Pagan. I worship (to name only some) the Sun, the Moon, the Storm, Earth, Sea, the Winds. Whatever it is that They may be (when asked “What is a god?” the poet Simonides replied, “I find that the more I think about the question, the more opaque it becomes”), it doesn't seem to me to be in any way meaningful to say that they're archetypes.

Whatever that may be.

Craft historian Michael Howard has contended that the reductionist tendency to regard the gods as archetypes—essentially, as parts of ourselves—has actually stood in the way of entering into any sort of real relationship with Them.

The gods, Howard would say, aren't part of us.

We're part of Them.

So, are the gods archetypes?

Well, mine aren't.

I don't know about yours.


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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.


  • nolongerhere
    nolongerhere Thursday, 19 January 2017

    Thanks for this. I've been finding a lot resonating in your microposts about the profundity of basics and the ancestors. Modern paganism has strayed too far into psycho-analysis and a weirdly disjointed mental/emotional divide-- lives and ritual dominated by acting out against restriction (perceived or real, societal or personal) on the one hand, and religious ideas ground too much in the limitations of the mind rather than approaching the awe of the ancient mysteries. To make a God an archetype is to attempt to make Them into something controllable-- and therefore "safe". There is no diving into the unknown, to relationships with sovereign entities who can-- and will-- react independently of your own desires-- if it's All In Your Head.

    There's also a poisonous pop culture assumption that the Gods are all petty drama-queens willing to throw people around for fun -- as if somehow, they are politicians or megalomaniac dictators run amok through the cosmos. Archetypes suddenly box that emotional fear in. If they're just mental aspects us, they can't be the wrathful, mercurial, demanding, uncaring petty jerkwads of so much TV, books and film who might whimsically turn on us if we approach Them.

    (That's how parasitic spirits behave, but that's more complex to go into. Another reason approaching the Mysteries is not just a game.)

    PS- You probably knew this but your readers might not- a lot of the ancient Indo-European God names, like Norse Thor and Celtic Taranis, simply meant "Thunder" in the languages of those people. Worshiping Them as the Powers flowing in and manifesting through Thunder and Sun and Sea and... everything... is deeply profound, magical in the truest sense, and wondrous.

    Thank you again.:D

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 19 January 2017

    Thanks for your generous words, Shiri; I'm in full agreement with your observations.
    I continue to be astounded by the simultaneous simplicity and profundity of the Old Ways.
    There's us, and there are these amazing Beings all around us, real as real, with Whom we share our lives and with Whom we engage in real, day-to-day relationships.
    What's simpler than that? What's more profound than that?

  • Anne Forrester
    Anne Forrester Saturday, 21 January 2017

    I also love this posting and agree with everything that Shiri says above. I was going to write a lengthy comment until I read her post and realized that she said it far more eloquently than I.

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