Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pagan Deities And Morality

In comments to my post on Pagan Values, nanoboy asks a good question:

I am curious about something. In the Socratic dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates catches Euthyphro in a logical fallacy. Euthyphro is a good guy, as he's acting as a witness against his father who murdered a slave. In discussing the morality of his situation, he must decide whether something is pious (or moral, for our purposes) because the gods approve of it, or whether it is approved by the gods, because it is pious.

He doesn't know in the end and heads off to court. Now, Socrates was a monotheist (a crime in Athens.) However, regardless of the number of gods, any religion needs to grapple with this issue. Did the gods make morality, or do the gods honor morality, because it is constant? I am curious of the response to this question by modern pagans.

You know, a lot of Pagan Godesses/Gods don't really have a lot to do with morality. They generally don't hand down lists of "Thou Shalt Not"s or even "Thou Shalt"s. The Wiccan Rede: "An it harm none, do as thou wilt," doesn't come from any particular deity that I know of. The Charge of the Goddess is sometimes associated with Aradia, but I think of it as a lovely piece of poetry written by Doreen Valiente for Gerald Gardner. Doreen could, though, have been channeling Aradia as much as Moses channeled Jehovah or Joseph Smith channeled Moroni. Crowley's "Love is the law. Love under will," was, according to Crowley, authored by an entity named Aiwass, whom Crowley later referred to as his personal Holy Guardian Angel (or "Higher Self"). Several Egyptian deities speak in Crowley's book. But that's it, as far as I know, at least in terms of generally-recognized explicit Pagan "commandments."

One thing I like about a lot of Pagan deities is that they're imperfect. Zeus runs around on his wife and isn't above trickery to land a young woman in the sack. His wife is jealous and often misdirects her jealousy. Seth killed Osiris. Diana turns Actaeon into a stag to be torn apart by his own hounds simply because he comes upon her bathing and is struck by her beauty. When Persephone is abducted, none of the Goddesses or Gods will tell her mother, Demeter, what happened until Hecate speaks up. And we won't talk about how the Trojan War got started.

I'm going to take moral instruction from this crew? ;)

To me, they neither, to answer nanoboy, make morality nor do they always honor it. What they do is to personify powerful forces and important archetypes. And, they just . . . are. Process theology would argue that they not only "are" but "are becoming," as well, and that makes sense to me. And, there's a point at which The Goddess and I are one, just as there's a point where Baba Yaga is a completely different entity from, say, Quan Yin and I am distinct from both of them.

However, while Gaia never handed down any specific commandments, I don't think that you can know her without accepting certain values, without valuing the Earth and all that She is.

As a devotee of Hecate, I try be willing to speak truth to power, especially if it will defend women. I try to be open to liminal times, spaces, experiences. I try to honor change in myself and others. I try to be aware of the value of those times when nothing is certain, to recognize that good things, as well as bad, can come from chaos. But it's as likely that I'm drawn to Hecate because she personifies those values as it is likely that I value those things because they're sacred to Hecate.

I don't know if this answers nanoboy's question, or not. Do you get your values from the Goddesses/Gods?


Souris Optique said...

Long time reader first time commenter.;D

Hmmm... no, but I don't intentionally deal with deities that don't meet my moral standards. Maybe this sounds flippant or self righteous -- I don't mean it to be. When I left Christianity once and for all, one of the things I told myself was "I refuse to worship a god who's less moral than _me_" Not that I'm so great, but that's kinda the point. I do believe the gods exist as discrete entities, and I do not believe might makes right.

Lee said...

To me, the goddesses and gods are personifications/embodiments of facets of the divine. I believe that all that is, is holy. Morality comes from all that is. It is the rule for sustaining and honoring the sacred spiral; the life/death/life cycle.

Anne Johnson said...

Since my intellect runs so deep you could walk through it without getting your socks wet, I would have to say that I get my morals from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

What is Goddess-given to me is love of music, poetry, dance, and mystical communion with Spirit.

nanoboy said...

First, thanks for responding to my comment.

Personally, I derive my own moral sense from philosophy. I like the logical rules of Kantian ethics and the sensibility of Mills' utilitarianism. I also just use my gut and remember the Golden Rule, as it generally serves in life.

Here's the thing, though. Morality needn't be a set of rules. Like the pirate code, it can just be, you know, guidelines. This is where you get what I think is the fundamental difference between liberalism/progressivism and conservatism. Strict rules can be manipulated by power to oppress. Common sense guidelines can be used to liberate people from unneeded restrictions. From what I can gather looking in, modern pagans are definitely guideline oriented.

Finally, and somewhat off of what I was saying, one has to take creation into account when discussing gods and morality. If you have some deity or deities making the universe, then you have to ask yourself, did they create morality? Did they accidentally set a framework that they then found themselves subject to? Did they muck everything up, and now people just have to do what they can to be decent? It may even be one of those fun little quirks for those who believe in a mother goddess creation story. It's different from the builder story, because a mother has no control over what her offspring will be when it is born but is supposed to have an unconditional love for it.

Elizabeth Haddon Society C.A.R. said...

"Common sense guidelines can be used to liberate people from unneeded restrictions."

Not speaking for anyone else here, but one of the reasons I chose a Pagan path is because it is free from the kind of dogma that requires people to follow rules written more than 2000 years ago.

Independent of any religious teaching, humans do have certain universal moral codes. For instance, in no living culture is it permissible to harm or kill a child with malice aforethought. Likewise, no extant culture supports sexual relations between a parent and a child, or between siblings, although some ancient cultures allowed the latter.

Anne Johnson said...

Sorry! I was signed in under Elizabeth Haddon C.A.R. It's a different site, not worth visiting, trust me.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I think we should assume that the stories about the "bad behavior" of the Goddesses and Gods are about as literally true as the idea that Jesus will help one team beat another in a football game. In fact, I have always just assumed that literalism is a bad fit for Pagans.