by Adapa from PagansOnLine
For many, the terms 'pagan' and 'scholarship' tend to be mutually exclusive. Indeed, beyond gaining a brief familiarity with the necessary neo-pagan elements of a particular cultural tradition with its attendant quasi-historical framework, there often appears little call for research in such a context. This approach, however, ignores the valuable contribution such an intellectual exercise can add to the religious experience. Indeed, true spiritual growth requires a broadening of perspective.Before the seeker lies the impenetrable gulf of Time. Armed with intellectual vision, however, this depth can be traversed. Cast aside your gaze from the Moon and you will see, obscured by its brightness, the endless void of stars which await your view.
Religious connections are often made on an emotional level. This is understandable, as we are often left unable to explain,even to ourselves, the manner and effect of such personal experiences with the divine. The situation is further complicated when one attempts to learn about the method behind such connections, for the subjective experience often defies explanation by anything other than experience itself. (1) As a result, initiation into the religious mysteries is often "hands-on,"with an emphasis on the emotional experiences of the seeker. In this situation, the experience becomes an end in itself, and the means used to achieve that end become immaterial. Quick to fill this intellectual void are any number of pagan magical 'systems'; systems too often prone to substitute modern judgment for historical accuracy in their representation of these religions.
"Western man seems to be both unable and, ultimately, unwilling to understand such religions except from the distorting angle of antiquarian interest and apologetic pretense. For nearly a century he has tried to fathom these alien dimensions with the yardstick of animistic theories, nature worship, stellar mythologies, vegetation cycles, pre-logical thought, and kindred panaceas, to conjure them by means of the abracadabra of mana, taboo, and orenda. And the results have been, at best, lifeless and bookish syntheses and smoothly written systematizations decked out in a mass of all-too-ingenious comparisons and parallels obtained by zigzagging over the globe and throughout the known history of man." (2)
"Such a religious landscape is quite bleak. Its also, unfortunately, all too familiar. Armed with a handful of simple generic blessings and a handy four-quarter casting, almost any historical culture can be transformed into a neo-pagan 'tradition'." (3)
My response to this growing trend is simple: THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Let your mind join where once only your heart led. This is not to say religion can or should be reduced to a science. Indeed, the extreme approach of scientism is just as flawed.
"Scientism is the profoundly unscientific attempt to transfer uncritically the methodology of the physical sciences to the study of human action. Both fields of inquiry must, it is true, be studied by the use of reason - the mind's identification of reality. But then it becomes crucially important, in reason, not to neglect the critical attribute of human action: that, alone in nature, human beings possess a consciousness."(4)
Rather, the heart must allow the mind to bring to it an understanding of WHY, for the 'why' of religious practice is ultimately as important as the 'how.' This 'why' is, in turn, a multifaceted component of any number of cultural features: mythology, sociology, history, philosophy. Each is a piece of the puzzle which will bring you closer to understanding these peoples. When you can truly understand them, you too will share in the fire which burned within their hearts, and set them striving for something greater than themselves.
In conclusion, I make a call for pagan scholarship. Open your minds to the divine as you have opened your hearts. Thirst for the 'why' in your magic as you do for the 'how.' The next time you find yourself in your local Craft shop eyeing the latest Llewellyn release,put away your money and visit your local library for a couple of hours,a couple of days...
At no time in history as today have scholarly resources for the seeker been so readily available. If you have a Barnes and Noble near you, take a trip through their History or Mythology sections. If you have a University near you, try their library: they can be the best sources for your studies. For the techno-pagans amongst you, www.amazon.com is a wonderful resource for on-line book purchases. As long as you're on-line,check out some of the scholarly research sites available for your particular subject: they are many and varied. For those who find themselves drawn to the Gods of ancient Sumer, I include the following brief list of suggested readings.
Note - These more accessible titles should be readily available at one of the above sources:
Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, Jeremy Black
The Harps That Once...Sumerian Poetry in Translation,Thorkild Jacobsen
Myths from Mesopotamia, Stephanie Dalley
The Sumerians, S.N. Kramer
Ancient Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and The Gods, Jean Bottero
Treasures of Darkness : A History of Mesopotamian Religion, Thorkild Jacobsen
The Sumerians, Leonard Wooley
1 Try, for example, to explain the taste of coffee without resorting to some other shared subjective experience.
2 Oppenheim, Leo: Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, pp. 182-183.
3 Indeed, today one need not even include the framework of a historical culture. I have heard of one coven, for example,which worships a pantheon composed of the characters from Star Trek, The Next Generation. I will not argue with such an approach on a magical level,where metaphor often supersedes substance. I would, however, argue with its efficacy as a religion.
4 Rothbard, Murray: Individualism and The Philosophy of The Social Sciences, p. 3.
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