Eric Fritter Riley (fritterfae) wrote,
Eric Fritter Riley

Spectra of Religion and Magic

Every man and every woman is a star.
-- Liber AL vel Legis, Ch. 1, Line 3

This has been at the forefront of my mind of late.  And it's terribly late and I am just going to slapdash this together.  It is at this time an incoherent thought that is moving me, and I have spent the last two days plotting the diagrams you are about to look at.

Over the course of the last several months the Pagan community and the Polytheist community have been at a continual proliferation of definitions of who is here and who is there, and the whole thing I'm sure was covered at length at Pantheacon which just ended, as well as the numerous blog posts that have been fueling the debate.  However I kept feeling like there was a bigger picture that was missing, and that picture had to do with notions of identity.

In many of the discussions online I have raised the point that this process of defining ever more granular labels for communities of practice in many ways mirrors the same process at play in other communities of identity such as the LGBTQIAA community.  Ever more granular definitions of sexual orientation, gender identity, biological sex, and gender expression have led to the queer community developing talking tools to explain this coalition of sexual minorities.  The best example of this is the GenderBread Person.  This visual aid places all of these categories on a spectrum, and for each category your place within the scale is determined by you.  It is not set in stone, and can vary over the course of one's life.

This got me to thinking.  Could we develop a similar tool that places our personal practices and our theological leanings within a similar model?

So, I sat down and played around with it.  What follows are examples of my attempt to do this. They are not intended to be comprehensive, but illustrative.

The Theistic Spectrum
This diagram represents a clustering of religious traditions within a broad based definition of their level of Theism clustered by their core focus.  I have identified three broad areas that theses religions tend to fall into: Human Focused, Material Focused, and God Focused.  Human Focused traditions look at the human condition as their primary need.  The existence of Gods is irrelevant to the work that must be done for the individual and for society.  These include Transtheisms (where Gods if they exist are unnecessary or irrelevant to the work of developing oneself), Atheisms (Where Gods are not believed to exist), and Agnosticisms (Where the existence of Gods are questionable, but unknown or unknowable).  Material Focused traditions look at the world, the universe and see something holy there.  The difference that separates them is whether that holy thing is discrete from other holy things (Panentheism) or if all things are holy because they come from a unified divine source (Pantheism).  God Focused traditions have at their core some level beyond humanity and beyond this earth.  The questions that separates the God Focused traditions are 1) the number of Gods and 2) if one is more important than the others.  Monotheisms espouse the belief in a singular God. Henotheisms acknowledge the existence of other Gods but places one before the others.  Polytheisms believe in the existence of multiple Gods and their importance among each other may be roughly equal or highly variable.

I've placed a few examples of religious and irreligious traditions in here just to start us thinking about this.  And yes, I know that some of these things are not exactly accurate.  Someone can be a secularist and a theistic person.  And some Christian traditions believe in intercessory messengers other than Catholics and the Orthodox.  The point I'm getting at really is that among these clusters, individual people who may also identify as Pagan may find themselves in a different category.  Brendan Myers blog entry on how the worship of the Gods doesn't matter is a great entry point into someone who defines himself as Humanist Pagan.  By appending that label of Humanist he identifies his focus as being here and on this earth working to improve the lives of people outside of the realms of any God based faith.  And yet, he does occasionally leave devotions.  So, perhaps he is more Transtheistic than Humanistic... But labels are for people to apply to themselves.

Now, Richard Dawkins developed a scale that places Atheism at one end and deep Theistic belief at the other end.  I felt that was far too limiting and honestly I felt it was disingenuous to the transtheistic people.  Their spiritualities may have Gods, demons, and other sorts of magical creatures, but they are no more relevant to them than they would be to an Atheist.  And so I placed Transtheisms first as an example of how this scale kind of loops around back upon itself.  In fact I did an entirely separate model with it all as a wheel.  I also snuck in "Deism" on the wheel diagram to try and even it out a bit because it was crazy lopsided.


But I felt that this left something out that needed to be discussed beyond the issues of the Gods and that is Magic.  I feel that Magic (however you choose to spell it) is just as equally an important spectrum for us to define in our relationships among each other as our level of Theism.   So, here's a chance at it. Again, not comprehensive, but illustrative.

The Magical Spectrum

This diagram shows a similar clustering of magical practices, though because of the hour and my desire to push this out faster I didn't include examples on this model.  The three large clusters of magical focus are Material, Natural, and Spiritual.  Materially focused practices range from hard science (no woo woo, just the facts), to Alchemy which is a root of scientific practice but bleeds into the level of magical practice with its aims, to Divination which is a sort of parascience focused on prediction from things like natural phenomena but without any necessary spiritual significance (Astrology, Geomancy, Tarot, etc.).  Natural Magics are focused on this world and the magical properties associated with the physical world.  Witchcraft as I'm defining it here would be like herbalism, folk magic, spell craft and energy work.  Shamanism is the borderland between physical practices like Witchcraft and Spiritual practices like talking with the spirits of the dead.  Shamanic work may involve speaking to plant or animal spirits, or doing spirit work to heal someone.  Spiritual Magics involve the invocation or intercession of spirits or divine beings.  Goetic works would be the invocations of angels or demons for various purposes (Yes, I know that Goetia is not exactly as I am describing here but work with me).  Thaumaturgical works would be something along the line of miracles performed by saints.  Theurgy is the actual invocation, evocation, or intercession of a God in order to accomplish a magical act.

Now, a lot of you may be saying that you do any number of these things, and that may well be true.  These are not intended to be mutually exclusive categories, nor are they intended to be seen as some kind of sequence of progressive steps.  Most people have a tendency to lean toward one method or other.   Also, coupling the magical scale with the Theistic scale and a definition of one's tradition leads us to more precise understandings of who we are in our respective paths.  Knowing where you tend to fall both in the broad clusters and the smaller definitions helps you more clearly understand yourself and helps others more clearly understand where you're coming from.

So, for me I am on the border between Polytheistic and Transtheistic.  I have had experiences that I cannot doubt, and that have changed the path of my life in ways I cannot begin to count.  And yet, I question where this is all going and why.  So I focus on the here and now and doing good for the greater Pagan community.  Living a life of service.  In terms of Magic I tend to fall into a more Theurgical place.  When I work magic it is to communicate with divine forces.  I don't blend sachets of incense or boil Aqua Fortis to make the Chemical Wedding.  I know of those things, but they are not my focus.  My love is learning and I speak to beings who I believe know more than I do.  And I don't discount science, I firmly believe in evidence based inquiry, and Uncle Al, who wrote those opening lines would say the same.  Magick is both Science and Art, it is just how you look at things.

And now that it's approaching 2:00 a.m I will go to bed.  I look forward to your comments.
Tags: analysis, magick, models, paganism, religions

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