Paganism for Beginners: Theology

Pagan theology is non-dogmatic, experiential, and descriptive. Usually people have an experience or perform a ritual, and then develop a theory to explain the experience. Quite often, Pagans will deny that this is theology – but to my mind, theology is any theory to explain the relationship of humans with the numinous.

PILGRIM ON A FOREST ROAD -- Into the Mist of Old Japan, by Enami

PILGRIM ON A FOREST ROAD — Into the Mist of Old Japan, by Enami (uploaded to Flickr by Okinawa Soba) [CC by NC SA 2.0]

The term theology was coined by the pagan philosopher Cicero in 49 CE, in his work of pagan apologetics, De Natura Deorum (‘On the Nature of the Gods’).

You are ‘doing theology’ whenever you explain how magic works, describe what you think a deity is, talk about the soul, or what happens after death. You are ‘doing theology’ when you wonder why bad things happen to good people.

Theology – and Pagan conversation in general – tends to confuse a lot of people because it involves specialised terminology. Here are some of the most common terms used in Pagan theology, with a short explanation. You can find out more information on all these terms by looking them up on Wikipedia.

  • Animism – the idea that everything (trees, rocks, animals, etc) has a spirit or a soul
  • Apologetics – the process of explaining your religion to other people (not apologising for its existence!)
  • Dogma – theology codified as a compulsory set of beliefs, such as a creed
  • Duotheism – the idea that there are two deities, a god and a goddess (sometimes expressed as “all the gods are one God, and all the goddesses are one Goddess”)
  • Henotheism – the view that there may be many deities, but the henotheist worships only one of them
  • Immanent – intertwined with or present in matter. Pagan deities, spirits of place, genii loci, land wights, etc are usually regarded as immanent
  • Land wights (Landvættir) – a term used by Heathens to describe the powers and spirits of the land, who may protect whole countries, or smaller regions.
  • Monism – the idea that there is a single underlying unity of everything – spirit and matter
  • Monotheism – the idea that there is only one deity, who is often, but not always, seen as transcendent.
  • Naturalism – the idea that there is nothing beyond Nature, and usually, no spirit(s) within Nature either.
  • Numinous – the power or presence or realisation of divinity; the experience of the supernatural or the preternatural
  • Orthodoxy – a religion that emphasises that all its practitioners should believe the same set of ideas is orthodox
  • Orthopraxy – a religion that emphasises that all its practitioners perform the same or similar rituals is orthopractic
  • Pantheism – the idea that deity (usually a single deity) is present in Nature, or in the universe.
  • Pantheon – a group of deities worshipped by a specific culture (e.g.  the Greek pantheon, the Roman pantheon, the Norse pantheon, the Hindu pantheon)
  • Polytheism – the idea that there are many deities
  • Prayer – having a conversation with, or communing wordlessly with, a deity or spirit
  • Preternatural – a term suggested by Michael York to describe the experience of immanent spirits and deities
  • Spirits of place – spirits of trees, rocks, and specific places, often guardians or protectors of the place (Latin: genii loci)
  • Supernatural – the idea that spirits and deities are transcendent and exist outside of nature
  • Theology – a set of theories about the gods and our relationship with them (not necessarily dogmatic, as many different theologies can co-exist peacefully in non-dogmatic religions)
  • Transcendent – existing above or beyond something
    • Epistemologically transcendent – the experience of something beyond the ego, such as the sense of being swept away in a crowd.
    • Ontologically transcendent – existing beyond matter (usually referred to simply as ‘transcendent’)
  • WorshipA ritualized expression of respect and honour – offered to anything or anyone that you respect and honour.

Further reading

This post is part of a series, Paganism for Beginners. All the posts in this series will appear in the category ‘A Beginner’s Guide‘. You can find them by clicking on the ‘FILED UNDER’  link at the foot of the blogpost. 

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