Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Blognarok...the end of this blog and the start of a new one...

Just to let you know I won't be adding anything further to this blog because I have created another  blog entitled Silurian Grove. This is because I wish to change my focus from high level theology and philosophical stuff to, in time, a rather more up close and personal expression of my relationship with and interest in the history, legend, landscape and nature of my own neck of the woods - South East Wales particularly the historical area of Gwent and Monmouthshire.  And I hope in time to include some pictures, video etc and local links.
There will still be some asides where I discuss ideas and beliefs but I have given up pretending and kidding myself that  I might find, let alone understand the meaning of life, the universe and everything. If there is a Big Truth, this is it: everything we have is a partial perspective - there is truth in hard polytheism, in animism, in pantheism, in naturalism, in Jungian Psychology,  in non-theism, even in deism and some aspects of the Abrahamic religions. All these systems of thought provide partial, limited and finite (because they are human) perspectives upon what I now call the Infinite Divine, the One and Many. And in line with what I just said before...I am going to shut up now!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Druidic Naturalism - a final review and critique

Is a naturalistic spirituality possible? Yes, I think it is. However is it possible to be a strong atheist and skeptic of the supernatural and still be fully part of the pagan-druidic community? I think now that is only possible if the naturalist/atheist/skeptic is willing to accommodate fully, and open mindedly, the beliefs/ways of other pagans and largely ride on is coat tails. I don't think that naturalists can create an 'alternative druidry' that can viably replace 'pagan theistic/animistic druidry' let alone create the basis for a real 'Order', Grove etc. My evidence for this assertion is based on my experience of the many discussions and interactions through the Caer Abred group/forum a.k.a the Druidic Order of Naturalists. We have found that atheists/sceptics have generally not supported the development of 'naturalistic ritual'. Most do not see it has a role in their spirituality.  Even where some enthusiasm has been forthcoming initially, the attempts to reformulate pagan druidic forms to remove the theistic and supernatural have appeared 'clunky' at best, a parody at worst. Indeed the dependance upon comic effect and simple criticism without suggesting constructive alternatives, has led some observers (pagan and atheist) into  doubting the seriousness of the whole Druidic Naturalism 'project'. 

Naturalism is an option for pagan druids but unless such a view is lightly held, atheism is a stance that relegates that naturalist to the fringes of the pagan community, rather as being a 'Christian' druid does (or being an Christian Atheist or Pagan in Christendom for that matter). As with 'Christian' druidry, for many pagans the juxtaposition of apparently antithetical religious and philosophical views, forces the druid naturalist always on the defensive, and explaining continually why their self definition is not simply an oxymoron. Other pagans will certainly have huge difficulty in 'getting it' and see in the naturalistic assertion an implied at least rejection of their beliefs. And of course if atheism/ naturalism is pursued evangelistically (in the manner and tone, say, of Richard Dawkins) one will quickly alienate other pagans.

My association with naturalism has shown me that  my religious devotion is based on 'faith' rather than reason, faith born out of  not adherence to a creed or revelation, but intuitive experiences, and yes, the 'aesthetic' response which druidic naturalism asserts is really the be all and end of naturalistic druidry. My druidry is a 'private truth', though a truth shared with others. Naturalism remains for me the preferred way of establishing public truth - the societal consensus about reality - and protecting the mind from nonsense and any attempts by others to foster cult-like behaviour by taking too much on trust. This is a healthy form of scepticism, where naturalism is a 'tool' for living, a key to solid knowledge but not the last word. Epistemological naturalism makes sense but metaphysical naturalism is claiming too much, even by naturalistic standards!.

Yet I would never enter my private truths, arrived at from intuition alone as evidence in any debate about public policy or argue for my private truths against the scientific consensus. In naturalistic terms they are speculative hypotheses at best. Naturalism has taught me the potential for self delusion and the fact that most so called 'paranormal' evidences fall far short of the standards of evidence required by science. Also my sojourn with naturalism has collapsed the 'supernatural' options for me, focusing me on physical nature (as the starting point both for my spirituality as well as the basic scientific datum) rather than abstract notions of many supernatural realms and levels of reality. In practice naturalism has led me away from theologising and creating intellectual 'castles in the air' toward the most basic form of mysticism - the numinous experience of the forces and ways of nature.

My debates with naturalism have rid  me of much of my earlier 'neo-platonism' except that I remain philosophically inclined to belief in a transcendent absolute 'source' of all things, that I may also refer to obliquely as the Infinite. Speculatively such a reality must be forever nameless and without concrete conceptualisation including any personification, but of course  I am thinking still in terms of the high mysticism of the Platonic 'One', the Brahman, the Eternal Tao etc. You see I could never fully embrace atheism, and have settled for an open minded agnosticism about the existence of a transcendent (beyond space and time) supreme being. My philosophical inclination to belief in such a reality or ground of reality  (an inclination that does not warrant the certainty implied by saying it is a belief) is supported in my mind by the logical need for a 'necessary being' and 'first cause', and again certain emotional and intuitive experiences. The theology I am inclined toward then is still very much conceived in terms of a practical pagan deism ( a deity that does not intervene in nature from outside disrupting normal processes) and process philosophy ( physical nature is itself the manifestation of  the creative power/being of the transcendent absolute in eternal procession). This theology also asserts that the divine is both 'One' and 'Many'.

As I said these 'mere' inclinations are not my 'beliefs'. From the point of naturalistic epistemology, they are unproven and uncalled for conceptions. However that I have these inclinations mean there remains a very large 'wedge' in the 'door' of my mind, leaving it very open to more traditional theistic belief. Being a dogmatic stance by definition, atheism insists any moves toward theism is still chasing delusion. I don't accept that atheistic view, at least I don't accept it can be held with anything like dogmatism. While I always doubt, and question, even my doubt, as well as my belief, must be held 'lightly'. Surely anything else is hubris, of which the gods are not particularly fond I hear...

 I have discovered that only a very strong open minded sympathy for animistic, and theistic beliefs is necessary to be part of the pagan community - a community that fortunately is immensely tolerant, and undogmatic, as long as the favour is returned. Returning to my initial comments, it is this open mindedness based on not just an emotional  and aesthetic sympathy but also a genuine philosophical inclination, a willingness to believe as it were, that continues to bind me personally to pagan/ druidry. If we close the philosophic door by insisting on a strict naturalism, then I think we also practically speaking close the door on being part of that tradition of native (but ever evolving) spirituality that is druidry.

A concluding triad...

Those who accept they don't know may learn, but those who insist they know already, will not learn. Those without a willingness to learn, how are they so sure they know?


Recently I have found myself reading a lot about the history and archaeology of South Wales, particularly my own area 'Gwent' formerly known as Monmouthshire.  As usual my interest has been drawn to accounts of the ancient and early medieval history,  particularly accounts of the ancient Silurian 'Tribe' of South Wales. Our knowledge of these people is sketchy, though they are mentioned by a number of Roman writers. What we can be certain of is that though most of southern and eastern Britain sucumbed to conquest quickly in the the First Century,  as soon as the Romans entered South Wales they encountered many years of fierce resistance from a Celtic people who lived between the rivers Twyi and Wye, in South Wales. The Romans called these people the 'Silures'. Eventually in a policy of pacification the Silures were offered their own Roman Town/Market place, called Venta Silurium, and the ruins of this Roman City are still there in modern Caerwent.  Interestingly the Latin name 'Venta' lived on in the name of the Early Medieval Welsh Kingdom of Gwent. At Venta Silurium tribal elders were probably given some form of semi-autonomy over local affairs, but always under the watchful gaze of the Romans, who stationed an entire Legion - at least 5,000 men at arms, not far away at Isca (modern Caerleon). Prior to this forced or voluntary urbanisation (one suspects the former) the Silures created many hill forts in the last few centuries B.C. Prior to the Roman invasion, the Silures were unlikely to have had any kind of central political authority, but probably existed as a loose confederation of clans and kindred based around small agricultural and pastoral units, using the forts for temporary defence or perhaps cultural purposes. They almost certainly shared a common language, culture and religion
What was their religion? We can only guess it had much in common with that of other Brythonic peoples prior to the coming of Christianity. Their 'pagan' religion would have included the usual intellectual/priest caste of druids, seers and bards, and would undoubtedly have been polytheistic/animistic.
 The archaeological evidence at Caerwent includes a shrine to Mars Lenus Ocelus. It was the custom of the Romans to engage in religious syncreticism, associating members of their pantheon with local deities. Mars was of course the Roman war God, Lenus was a Gaullish deity, and Ocelus...well the guess is, this was a Silurian deity. With little other evidence available, the fact the Romans associated Ocelus with Mar indicates that he has attributes similar to that deity in the Religio Roman, but we don't know what 'aspect' of that deity.  Other intriguing archaeological evidence has suggested that the local inhabitants venerated a cat god or perhaps cats generally. Finally at the Roman Temple Complex at Lydney on Seven, one of the dedications is to Nodens, a well known Celtic God, associated  in inscriptions at Lydney with the Roman God Mars again and also Mercury, but the archaeology suggests his devotees perceived him as associated with sea faring and also with healing

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, and my current intention is to  celebrate the sunrise in the morning at some hilly or nature friendly locality, unless the weather is especially bad. After all if you can't see the sun, there is driving rain, a whiteout of fog, a foot of snow (last year), the temperature is many degrees sub-zero...I have no urge to masochism.   I don't 'worship' nature or abase myself before it to propitiate it by suffering. Okay, so I lack commitment....
It seems generally accepted now that ancient peoples (though probably not the iron age culture called 'Celts' who actually had a druid priesthood) greatly celebrated the winter solistice, which was more religiously significant than the summer solstice. For at the winter solstice, in the depths of cold and darkness the sun is 're-born' and hope for the future (for those who understand their  physical dependance on the sun) is renewed. The sun is, even in  modern scientific terms, a very natural 'supreme being' the bringer and preserver of life (and sometimes death), the source of most of the earth's physical (e.g. atmospheric and marine) energy and bio-chemical energy, which gives natural processes their 'vitality' and 'creativity' (what I tend to term ' natural spirit').
I don't immediately in my modern reality sense my physical dependance upon the sun: i  live with electrical power and central heating. Emotionally though I, for one, find the 'light' to be  extremely conducive to 'good mood' and a lack of the latter (and of fresh air in general) literally depresses me. Whether there really is such a thing as 'Seasonally affected Disorder' my mood is, I am sure, affected by the seasons. If one thing attracts me to paganism above all else, it is the celebration of the 'Wheel of the  Year' and marking the change of seasons. I have found this recognition of the changing rhythms psychologically beneficial, enlightening and fun at the very least.
So what will I do tomorrow? okay, well I will go up a hill that if possible allows an interrupted view of the sunrise or at least 'lightening' in the right general direction, cloud permitting, Then I might sit quietly or do a little jigly hands raised thing (depending on whether I might have an obvious audience or not). I will probably chant some 'awens' as the sunrise develops and finish by whispering gratitude and thanksgiving to the great ruler of the sky, the sun, though I know very well the sun is not a person/mind/god. I might offer some mead to the earth, though I also doubt there are any faery folk or elementals to enjoy it.  I probably won't do much else in the OBODian pattern as I am increasingly sure you can't make those rituals fit a naturalistic mould. Anyway such 'druid' rituals are not 'ancient' and I would be surprised if they pre-date 1980.  A ritual for today has to be a ritual of  today, and I don't accept the reconstructionist nonsense that one has to show some lineage of  religious practice. If it works (for you) do it, if it doesn't, don't.
One element I would like to bring into these rituals would be to sound at the moment when the sun breaks the horizon some kind of  ancient 'horn' (like the jewish shofar made from a ram's horn). I keep meaning to buy one, and if i do it will probably be a  modern version of a shofar as I haven't seen such at druid-supermarket recently (come on you merchandisers of pagan tat!) Though I am not going to have that element in my ritual tomorrow, I can relate a slightly 'spooky' experience of  hearing such a traditional 'horn'. This was about 2005 or 1 B.K. (before kids) the mrs and I were watching the sunrise at  winter solstice at the local  hillfort ( the Gaer, in wester Newport, an open space called locally the Gollars). As the sun rose we could see for miles along the Severn Estuary and behind us, to the North  mostly open countryside, the ancient village of Bassaleg, and in the distance the imposing hills of the entrance to the Ebbw and Sirhowy Valleys: Twmbarlwm and Mynydd Machen on either side the valley mouth. Drifting on the wind we both heard the low deep sound of such a horn for a good few seconds. It wasn't coming from the immediate hill fort or at least it seemed 'far away' in space (or? time?). Of course it was probably another neo-pagan hippy type with a horn doing their own ritual, but I still have no idea who this could have been (and I know perhaps half a dozen card carrying pagans in the locality). Still natural or preternatural the sound of the horn at the 'right' moment was impressively memorable.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


If anyone was following my blog as an exemplar of naturalistic paganism, I am very sorry that I recently succumbed to an extreme bout of supernatural religiosity, which I pompously paraded on this blog. I am digusted, ashamed for the appalling drivel (more than usual) that was spouted herein, concerning 'God' and the 'divine'. For some reason I was carried away with metaphysical speculation forgetting that I was just creating imaginary notions, castles in the air. 

Perhaps though this drift into incredulity began because I failed to distinguish between metaphysical naturalism (which is philosophically problematic) and epistemological naturalism. The latter is the metaphorical cold shower that I needed. An idea may seem  beneficial, pleasing and coherent but the most important question is 'is it true?' and necessarily this leads to the small matter of 'how do we know something is true?'. Ultimately to rely on intuition is simply to rely on 'feelings'. But why should 'feelings' be taken as 'data'?. I realise now that feelings are just that and we should enjoy the unmediated pure experience and feeling without trying to interpret it, not least trying to interpret with speculative metaphysical notions. Rational factual statements about the world must be based on logic and empirical observations of the world. Everything else is 'pure hypothesis' and 'speculation'. For instance 'deism' is 'pure hypothesis' that is no where proved, indeed it is an assertion that seems to be fundamentally unfalsifiable. We must be 'agnostic' about religious truth claims, this is the only reasonable position to take.

Sure, I've been here before and keep lapsing into religion and woo woo. This shows the power of the 'need to believe'.

Naturalistic Religion and Paganism

 I have to give up the supernatural and focus on this world, what we can truly know rather than idle speculation. I know the 'religious urge' will still carry me from time to time.Nature is so full of awesome power and magnificence and beauty. It is. We are. Why look for a supernatural 'source' of nature of which we can have no certain knowledge, when we have nature itself.

More and more people are identifying as 'naturalistic' pagans but they are derided and sidelined by traditional pagans who have their 'gods' and 'magical powers'. I wonder how  the latter people can say they believe in 'gods' as supernatural entities and yet claim they are a 'nature religion' when they inevitably focus on some magic 'otherworld'. ( In my view polytheism is no more necessarily a nature religion that monotheism).

I think a naturalistic spirituality or religious naturalism can borrow heavily from 'neo-pagan' forms of ritual with their celebration of the rhythms of nature. A naturalist spirituality that is pagan accented should focus on nature, the land, yes also the stories of the ancestors. My kind of naturalistic spirituality is also interested in the 'archetypes', the ancestral forces of the unconscious psyche that are surely the naturalistic origins of the subjectively real and powerful 'spiritual experiences' of modern pagans. As they rise up from the 'other world' unconscious into manifestation they appear as revelations, as coming from 'outside' the self, and as perfectly 'other'. But of course they are parts of ourselves, hidden creative parts desiring expression. So no doubt these 'gods' have a wisdom to teach us.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A collapse of 'faith'

Aha! My religious faith has collapsed again. What metaphysical castles I like to create, only to tear them down. My crisis this time is not about the coherence of some theistic claims ( I think some types of theistic claims are coherent, though not theistic claims approaching those of classical theism. The latter is incoherent i.e full of inherent contradictions or obfuscations and vagueness). My crisis this time is epistemological. I have concluded there is simply insufficient evidence to believe that even coherent theistic claims are true. One can only be an 'agnostic' who is inclined toward believing in theism...but not actually a theist in the sense that I believe there is a God. Oh yes I want there to be a God, or rather I would like to believe the world is heading for some ideal state or I have some subjective immmortality and so do my loved ones. But I have insufficient reason to believe any supernatural reality exists. The mystical experience and intutition sometimes seems to fill the evidential 'gaps' by providing some kind of 'gnosis' to believe in some kind of absolute spirit, but I can't rationally get beyond this very basic intuition to develop a 'theology' on anything like a sound footing. And the mystical experience itself cannot be shown to be more than a querk of the human brain, a state of consciousness.

This leads me back to being interested in  only a) naturalistic or humanistic paganism b) archetypal psychology c) pure mysticism, which is contentless and not noetic  d) parapsychology

c) is significant, because until a few days ago it sustained a unitarianism or perennialism, a kind of belief in an 'unknown God'. However all I can rationally say is that 'I have a certain state of mind', not that this mystical experience actually provides any factual information about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I am intuitively inclined to sense a 'divine power' acting through creation. I have always called this the 'is-ness' of 'pure being'. And of course for me, spirit is being or essence, life or vitality and (states of) consciousness. Spirit may be metaphysical but it need not be supernatural. What I can't have is any confidence that this 'spirit' is a mind or person or that a 'person' or 'mind' as we know it is behind this sense of a 'divine power'. Or indeed that this intuition is not more than the working of my own digestion or particular firing pattern of neurons