Answers to ultimate questions

‘Ultimate questions’ tend to be asked from within a Christian versus ‘Western’ atheist framework – is there a God, is there an afterlife, where did the universe come from, why is there evil and suffering? In both ‘Eastern’ traditions and Paganism, these may not be the most important issues. So on God, Pagans may have a variety of answers, including polytheism, duotheism, the Goddess, pantheism, nature as divine, or a metaphorical non-realist understanding of deity.

On the possibility of an afterlife, Pagans may believe in reincarnation, or in the otherworld of the spirits, or an Elysian fields or Summerlands kind of paradise, or a Valhalla, depending on their Pagan tradition, or union with the divine life-energy. Other Pagans believe there is no life after death and that we should concentrate on living this life on earth.

The origin of the universe is often something to be pondered, with no definitive answer. But such ponderings are not generally central to Pagan traditions. Some traditions, such as Hellenism and Heathenry might also include creation stories.

Many Pagans accept that life includes suffering as well as joy and we have to learn positive ways of dealing with this for all living things. Pagans may say that they accept the existence of a dark side of life, but this should not be confused with any idea of encouraging ‘evil’.

Pagans to date have not much engaged in systematic theology or philosophy, but a few people are trying to develop both, such as Michael York (2003) and Paul Reid-Bowen (2007). Although this enterprise is just beginning, some ‘answers to ultimate questions’ can be discerned. The sacred, holy or divine is not something separate from the physical world, but is immanent within nature, or more straightforwardly, is nature. The divine is either female as well as male (or genderless), or in Reid-Bowen’s analysis of Goddess-based thought, sacred nature is primordially female. If everything is divine, then everything is holy and the world is a place of enchantment, with sacred energy available to all.

Life on this earth is affirmed, and the body and sexuality are celebrated. The interconnection and co-dependence of all things, human, animal, plant, divine is a fundamental truth, giving a priority to relationality and relationships.

The diversity of life, and even the messy or painful aspects are to be accepted and made the most of. Experience is the main source of knowledge, and in Goddess spirituality, particularly the experience of women.

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