Tag Archive | trinity

The Three Major Approaches to Neo-Paganism

Most things in the universe happen in threes. Three is a universal number of great importance. In Heathenism we have the Heathen trinity of Odin, Thor, and Freyr, which I covered in another post.

This three-ness aspect to the universe is also seen in divisions that happen within major world religions. We see this for example in Christianity in there being Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox branches. In Buddhism this trinity is expressed with there being Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantric forms of the religion. In Hinduism we have Shivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism. In Islam there is Sunni, Shia, and Sufism. In Wicca, which is itself a tradition within Neo-Paganism, there is British-Traditional, Eclectic, and Dianic, branches. Even in Heathenism we have strict-reconstructionists, modernists, and tribalists.

In Neo-Paganism this three-fold aspect is seen with there being Archetypal-Paganism, Polytheistic-Paganism, and Humanistic-Paganism. Neo-Paganism is a newer major world religion and as such it is still undergoing the process of development as a major religion. Thus is is still going through the grow process that any new religion does.

The first form of Neo-Paganism to form was Archetypal-Paganism. Your stereotypical Wiccan (but not all Wiccans) is an Archetypal-Pagan. They see the gods and goddesses either as different (and interchangeable) expressions of one divine energy, or all gods and goddesses to them are the expression of one set of Great Goddess and Great God (Dualtheism). Archetypal-Paganism is based on the philosophical idea of syncretism. Wicca itself was a religion created through syncretism. Though most but not all Wiccans are Archtypal-Pagans, not all Archtypal-Pagans are Wiccans. Wiccans would be the biggest group that are Archtypal-Pagans.

The next expression of Neo-Paganism is Polytheistic-Paganism. Polytheistic-Pagans see the gods and goddess as all unique and distinct beings and not interchangeable for one another. Though some of them do acknowledge that some gods or goddesses may appear in more than one culture with nearly almost exact similar forms and traits but with different names. Generally Polytheistic-Pagans place a strong focus on devotional practices and worship of the particular gods and goddesses which they happen to focus on. Polytheistic-Pagans are almost always very focused on a particular cultural tradition. Some Polytheistic-Pagans are very focused on strict historical reconstruction of ancient Pagan traditions, while others try to focus on modern ways to relate to the gods/goddesses, but many are a mix between both these extremes. The stereotypical Heathen is Polytheistic-Pagan. Originally Heathenism was separate from the Neo-Pagan scene due to early on Wiccan viewpoints dominating the Neo-Pagan scene, but this has changed and more and more Heathen ideas have had an impact on Neo-Paganism. More Heathens, or even Pagans strongly influenced by Heathenism, are seen taking part in the Neo-Pagan scene these days. Just as not all Archtypal-Pagans are Wiccans, not all Polytheistic-Pagans are Heathens, though Heathenism does represent the biggest pool of Polytheistic-Pagans at this time. There has been a huge growth in non-Heathen forms of Polytheistic-Paganism in recent years.

The third and by far newest form of Neo-Paganism is the Humanistic-Pagan. They are a very recent development and as such there has been some growing pains for this form of Paganism in it being accepted into the Neo-Pagan scene. Other terms that seem to be currently used for Humanist-Pagans are Atheist-Pagans, and Naturalistic-Pagans. Generally Humanist-Pagans tend to not believe in or focus on the supernatural or divine aspect of things. They tend to see the gods/goddesses and mythologies in terms of archetypal expressions of psychological or philosophical concepts. In many ways the ideas established by Carl Jung likely are the roots of this form of Paganism. Humanistic-Pagans believe strongly in science and having a more tangible connection to things. Their approach to Paganism is more cultural. Many of them may not wish to see Neo-Paganism as a religion but more as a form of cultural identity. They put great focus on the values expressed within Neo-Paganism such as respect for the environment and a focus on self awareness. Omnia is an example of a music band that seems to represent the ideas within Humanistic-Paganism.

It is important as Pagans for us to understand and respect the views of all those who fall under the umbrella of the religion of Neo-Paganism. At the same time we need to acknowledge that there are these distinct forms and these differences can at times lead to issues of difficulty since each distinct style leads to a different viewpoint on what the reasons are for being Pagan. We must guard against trying to enforce the approach of our particular approach of Neo-Paganism on to people of the other forms. We must acknowledge that all ways are equally as valid and all people have the religious and spiritual and cultural freedom to pursue anything that is not harmful to others. All these forms of Paganism are helpful in their own ways to those who practice them. All these forms of Paganism help to enrich the lives of their devotes. As Neo-Pagans we need to stand unified at least on the legal and cultural front so as to make sure our rights are not stomped upon. On the spiritual front we must understand our differences and make room for us to divide into our particular more focused groups as needed.

I dedicate this post as an offering to the goddess Saga. Hail Saga!

The Indo-European Trinity and How it Relates to Heathenism

I got into a really interesting conversation with Allen Alderman over in the Asatru and Heathen community in Google+. We discussed the Indo-European trinity. This is a really important metaphysical concept that seems to weave it’s way through all Indo-European based spiritual traditions, including Heathenism. I already covered one aspect of this concept in a previous post:

Allen Alderman: I read your post on the trinity in Heathenism. I would also enjoy discussing your views on Dumézil’s trifunctional hypothesis – which I, personally, think he just nabbed from much older thinkers – but I should probably save that for a comment on the post itself.

Volmarr Wyrd: *laughs*. Yes already had the discusion with someone who brought up Dumezil. I of course believe that most things end up dividing into 3 but the nature of what each part of that 3 is differs in each circumstance, it is rarely the same set of 3 things. Though I have not studied Dumezil, my understanding is he reduces all 3-fold divisions to the same one, but that is where I disagree with him. Three is metaphysically a natural division for most things in the universe, but there is not a fixed nature of everything being the same 3 things everywhere.

Allen Alderman: I was pointing more in the direction of the theory of guna in Samkhya philosophy. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? If you haven’t give it a good mulling over before discarding it prematurely (i.e. don’t just read Wikipedia’s treatment). There is a wealth of very old insight stored in that particular theory. You might find parts of it interesting, particularly in connection with what remains of Germanic lore.

Volmarr Wyrd: Yes the tattvas from Hinduism as you pointed out. In astrology they have this same concept with the cardinals, fixed, and mutable signs. In Hinduism there is Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. In Christianity there is Father, Son, and Holy-Spirit. It is the idea that all things have a creation, solidifying, and releasing aspect. In some ways many thrinities do fall into this division but it seems not all. But I agree with what you wrote elsewhere that studying other things, in particular Hindu stuff since it is an intact older Indo-European spiritual system gains one a much greater understanding of Heathenism. I studied Hinduism a lot as a matter of fact for many years.

Volmarr Wyrd: Even in alchemy is sulfur, salt, and mercury.

Volmarr Wyrd: Also Theosophy, that last 19th century and early 20th century spiritual movement which is the foundation of the modern New Age movement gets into this trinity a lot in their writings.

Volmarr Wyrd: Those Theosophists were heavy into Hinduism. They mixed Hindu Jnana Yoga with with western Spiritualist tradition ideas to come up with the tradition basically.

Allen Alderman: You might already know this – I’m not sure – but the theory of guna reaches a lot deeper than the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – which is a comparatively late development. The part of the theory which interests me most is their function in metaphysics and the theories which that idea later inspired in Hindu practical disciplines – especially medicine. But, essentially, it has to do with the Harmonic, Dynamic and Static principles in nature. I’ve always considered it a nice way to explain the relationship between the Vanir, the Aesir and the Jöttnar. That is to say, whenever someone contrasts the Vanir and the Aesir, there’s a voice in my head which says “You know, the Jöttnar actually belong to that particular trinity.” I usually bit my lip, however. :)

Volmarr Wyrd: I should look deeper into the gunas! Got any books to recommend? So which of the three races of divine beings do you relate to each of these principles?

Allen Alderman: Good books are always hard to find. My introduction to Samkhya philosophy was Nandalal Sinha’s Samkhya Philosophy (1915). Short but generally accurate treatments can be found in the shorter introductions, like M. Hiriyanna’s Essentials of Indian Philosophy (1948). A slightly more materialistic presentation, but valuable nonetheless, can be found in S. Dasgupta’s History of Indian Philosophy (1922). (The latter work, which can be found online at archive.org, is quite good at giving a broad but detailed overview of Hindu philosophy, Vol. I particularly, despite its typically late 19th century, “ancient philosophy can be harmonized with modern science” approach. It’s helpful to view Samkhya in its context, as that allows the reader to smooth over the personal preconceptions of the author.) Other than that, it has taken me years of reading in a variety of sources to recognize how all-pervasive this theory was and continues to be in weird and wonderful ways – several of which you mentioned in your comments above.

As for your second question: Well, it’s actually slightly more complex. None of the gunas are found in their pure state in anything manifest. Everything has all three in varying proportion. Thus, all three races are Dynamic, for example, but in varying degrees. For me, the Vanir are, by and large, the prime embodiments of the Harmonic principle, the Aesir embody the Dynamic principle, and the Jöttnar embody the Static principle. “Static” can be a bit misleading, as the original tamas (literally “darkness”) actually refers to a kind of “drawing down” or “drawing away” of energy, a destructive, sometimes lethargic tendency.

Just so you know, I’m not an “archetypal” Heathen, either. I consider myself as close to “hard” polytheism as a rational person can get.

Also, it might help to compare what you read on the gunaswith their analogy in Vedic medicine, the three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. These were directly inspired by the theory of guna, and if you are versed in alchemical tradition, you might find that interesting, as well.

Volmarr Wyrd: Nice! My guess for the 3 races of spiritual beings was the same you mentioned. So static in that sense is like the primordial dark womb of creation? Kabbalah has these three as well. The pillar of mercy is dynamic. The pillar of severity is static. The middle is harmonic. Also we can see this in the creation story. Fire is dynamic. Ice is static. Where they meet in the middle and life is created is harmonic.

Allen Alderman: Exactly. Glad to have found someone on the same wavelength. ;)

Volmarr Wyrd: Indeed is nice! Yimir was very static and sort of taking up a lot of space in the middle of existence and thus is why Odin and his brothers needed to kill him. The material from that which is static is that which is needed to make stuff, thus his body became the Earth. Ever since there is an ongoing cold-war between the dynamic and static forces. The only ones somewhat outside of that tension is the harmonic forces. Notice how in the story of Ragnarok Njord withdraws his forces from the battle before it really begins. By the way the Kabbalah is 3×3+1. That 1 is the result of energies moving through all of the 3×3 in order from most abstract to most formed. I am also as well very much a hard polytheist. I strive to get to know the gods and goddesses of the Vanir and Aesir on as personal of terms as I can, with my biggest focus tending towards the Vanir.