Friday, 9 September 2011

The Question of Faith

A representation of a Deva Apsara (water spirit)
I have an ambivalent attitude to faith. When, for a number of years, I was more or less a follower of Buddhism the subject of divine beings would occasionally surface and the Buddhist view seemed to be that there are divine beings (Devas  note that this word is cognate with the Latin word Deus), who live in something like what we would call heaven but that they are not immortal (though many devas live much longer lives than humans), they did not create the world, they are not omniscient and they are not omnipotent, however some devas are of "great moral authority and prestige and thus deserving of a high degree of respect". According to the Pali canon, the Buddha stated that making offerings to the devas is "noble" and an example of "wealth gone to good use". Ancient Greeks and Romans were also more or less familiar with this perspective as it is not so very different from the Epicurean perspective on the Gods – though I would not go so far, as Epicurus did, as to say that the Gods do not concern themselves at all with human beings, as this is something we cannot know.  

It follows, from this quasi-Buddhist approach to which I am heir, that divine beings are not in need of our private or collective faith in them, although they are not therefore averse or indifferent to reverential treatment. For me there is a difference between respectful reverence and faith. I cannot believe that any divine being worth worshipping could be so appallingly narcissistic as to require my unwavering faith and trust in his or her existence. I confess that I do not unwaveringly believe in Paganism. I do have doubts - I sometimes think that, like so many religious beliefs, Paganism is a fantasy made up by humans who cannot cope with life being no more than sound and fury, signifying nothing. As Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus:

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Pagan Altar

"The Household Gods" by J W Waterhouse (1880)
My altar (which may also be called a shrine or a Lararium*) tends to be changed around a fair bit from month to month but there are a few core features (as to the rituals performed at my altar see this post) – the core features are:
  • a designated space for the shrine itself - in my case I use the entire top of a cabinet in the bedroom. 
  • a candle holder (compare to a lucerna).
  • an incense burner (compare to a turibulum).
  • a container in which to keep incense (compare to an acerra).
  • a small plate on which to place food offerings (compare to a patera).
  • a small glass in which to place liquid offerings (compare to a gutus).
  • a container for salt (compare to a salinum).

Friday, 2 September 2011

Daily Pagan Ritual

"The Magic Circle" by J W Waterhouse (1886)
I generally practice this ritual every day and make up for days I missed by burning additional incense to "all benevolent divine beings" and giving additional food offerings to "local spirits" and "spirits of the household". I use these vague descriptors so to capture all possible Gods to whom I should be addressing my prayers. If you want to be more personal you might light the incense in honour of specific Gods whom you wish to honour (I admit that I am anxious not to offend any Gods by omission so I hesitate to be specific, though perhaps this is unduly superstitious).* You might also make a food and/or drink offering to the Lares and Penates. However, I prefer to use plain English, hence the all inclusive "spirits of the household" and "local spirits".

The ritual is performed at my household shrine/altar before the main meal of the day (dinner in my case). It may also be performed at the start of the day.

The head should be covered (a scarf over one's head, or the hood up if I am wearing a hoodie) and hands should be clean.