The concept of world view is important in Paganism of most stripes, because we have so many different world views represented within the Pagan umbrella of religions. From Celtic Reconstructionism to Asatru to Wicca, the world view of the adherents strongly shapes their practice. We have already seen examples of this in Neopagan Animism, chronicled in previous posts, yet we have not defined what a world view is or how it affects what we do.
Broken down, a world view is very simply an understanding of how the world is composed and how it works. In short, it is how the adherent views the world. Simple, no? Yet the concept stretches as far as the concept of *ghosti, to touch on and influence every aspect of one’s practice.
First of all, there are no two people who have the exact same world view. Each person in the world is experiencing his or her own world, and their view of that world is shaped by individual experiences, teachings of childhood, and other influences that may or may not be easily identified. We can broaden our scope to include a community’s shared world view, a cultural world view, even one imposed by society. These other terms are still important, for they give us ways to relate to other people and other spirits. In the end, however, it is the individual’s world view that will determine how one approaches religion and how that religion is ultimately practiced.
We spoke in the last post of approaching a God from its own cultural world view, which we often call cultural context. This is indicative of a specific set of beliefs, traditions, and practices, as well as variations on those themes. For example, in the Norse world view, the universe was created by primal forces, and the Gods (and their enemies) came from the mixing of these primal forces. In the Celtic world view, the land accepted various conquerors upon it, and made deals with the invaders to recognize their legitimate claims. In Greek myth, we see wars between various sets of Gods, the Titans and the Olympians, and we have the center of the world as Mount Olympus, with several other mountains (such as Atlas) holding up the sky, and with the Zephyrs (four winds) at the Gods’ command. In each view, the Gods are shown in a different role compared to the humans that venerate them, as well. The Asatru interpret the old Norse view as the Gods being ancient fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters in arms. Among the Irish pantheon, the Gods are the previous race to inhabit Ireland, and they sometimes help and sometimes hinder the humans they come across, but ultimately are a boon to most. Both support their people, but admire most those who stand tall on their own to face any conflict bravely. Keep in mind, these are only examples, and not by any means the full extent of what world view includes or entails.
Most European forms of ancient Paganism were very likely to have similar themes, but like individual world views, the world views of each culture had enough differences to set each other apart. This is why most Reconstructionists today tend to freak a bit when ADF or Wiccans or other Pagans approach the Gods from outside their own cultural context. It doesn’t happen often in ADF, but it does happen. Depending on the Wiccan, this mix-and-matching may happen once in a while or frequently. It rankles those who desire to recreate the religion of their ancestors, and strive to keep outside influences… well, outside.
Those that first practiced Neopagan Animism, including myself, were multi-pantheon adherents, and many of us still are. While many of us still seek to approach the Gods in their own cultural context in individual practice, when we come together for rites, we work more from a generic group context, or from a context of one culture with other pantheons invited as “guests” of the host culture. This stems from Neopagan Animism’s world view that any pantheons that are considered to exist, do exist. This also stems from our conviction that in the ancient world, those on the fringes of two cultures comingled, mixed, and blended their religion together, creating new traditions and evolving their religion as a result. This can be easily seen in the examples of those who were both Christian and Pagan, or in the possible examples of practices taken by the Norse from their Saami and Celtic neighbors, such as seidhr and specific Godforms which are extremely similar between the Norse and their neighbors. This world view is one that does not consider the ancient or modern world as static when it comes to religion, and sees the static and “eternal” view of religion to be a largely foreign concept.
Since world view is ultimately the purview of the individual, shaped by culture and society, Neopagan Animism recognizes three distinct facts: 1) Those that have wildly different world views are not necessarily wrong or right, in respect to each other. 2) Those with wildly differing world views can still worship together if put on the same general page. 3) Modern culture has already tainted any attempt to recreate the ancient ways, including ancient world view. None of these are necessarily bad things, and they are part of the basis of the Neopagan Animistic world view. In the case of #3, it is good to know and remember this fact, so as not to become too attached to a specific interpretation of ancient culture based on the writings of a few Christian monks and what we can glean from the archaeological record, which we had to interpret for modern times in the first place (again, I refer to the fact we do not hang prisoners of war in Odin’s honor).
All these considerations make world view and cultural context tricky waters to navigate. Further muddying the waters is the term cultural appropriation, which is essentially taking a concept or tradition of a culture and applying it to another. Because people have misappropriated so much from Native American culture during the “New Age” religious era, any kind of cultural appropriation is currently frowned upon. This is to the high detriment of world view in our family of religions, because people do not understand the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural misappropriation, and because we have already lost so much that can be found in similar forms elsewhere. Cultural appropriation is something all cultures (including those currently crying out against the practice) have done since the beginning of time, borrowing concepts from other cultures they come into contact with, and applying them to their own culture. Some things have changed since those days. I will add that in this day and age, this is still acceptable if proper respect is paid to the culture which a given tradition is taken from. Some traditions are hallmarks of the culture’s religion; leave them alone. Others are concepts that can strengthen and aid Paganism, being the closest thing to reclaiming our own traditions. In these cases, it is acceptable in my view so long as you understand and acknowledge that such traditions are borrowed. To take without respect for the culture one is taking from is cultural misappropriation, and should be avoided.
Consider these examples:
Seidhr would not have been “rediscovered” without practices borrowed from Harner’s book Way of the Shaman, nor from similar practices found in native American and Saami cultures. The small tidbits we have in Voluspa and other poems just were not enough to recreate the practice.
While the concept of animism is well-documented in myths and lore of European Paganism, much of the practice of the concept in the Pagan umbrella was still derived from living traditions such as Shinto, Vodoun, and Native American beliefs, as well as from Ceremonial Magick.
Much of the practice of magic in our family of religions was lifted wholesale from Ceremonialism and Hermeticism; the practices of Tarot, Astrology, and Numerology are almost wholly borrowed, though they may have had equivalents in indigenous European practices. This includes our current understanding of Runes, Ogham, and other native European symbol sets currently used for divination. We still are not certain how these symbols were actually used from the lore or the archaeological record, we have only clues and our own gnosis developed from those clues.
I would like to regard all the pain and mistakes that have brought us to this point, but we still come to the current fact that our world view in Paganism, and in Neopagan Animism in particular, is a mish-mash, no matter what we would like to believe otherwise. We cannot have a pure world view ported directly from the ancient world; we didn’t live then. We cannot practice wholly as our ancestors did, because in at least some cases we would be run out of town on a rail, or imprisoned by the hundreds. We can only do our best to understand how we view the world, and how our Gods and the spirits we venerate and work with view the world, and synthesize from this a world view acceptable to oneself. This requires a lot of stretching when dealing with multiple pantheons, because the manners and traditions of ancient Egypt were nothing like those of the Norse, and neither were very similar to the Celts. It’s a tough act to follow, a hard road to walk. We can only do our best.
In later posts, after we cover a few more concepts, we will be exploring specific world views and cultures from those who have practiced Neopagan Animism, and how it all works in personal practice and in ritual.