A little while ago, in response to a comment I left on his blog, Brooklyn Quaker, Rich wondered "what a Quaker Pagan is. Is it somehow related to nontheism or to polytheism or to both or to neither?" and I threatened to make a long post here in reply. (I made a pretty long comment as it was, and poor Rich could be forgiven if the eyestrain alone keeps him from ever wanting to read further!)
I'm not, however, feeling really moved to write about what it means to be a Pagan, probably because I've been one for almost twenty years now, and, though like a good marriage, it still holds plently of surprises and delights after all this time, it's also familiar enough that I don't often have a lot to say about it. For the most part, my Paganism fits comfortably into my self, and, as with my husband, I don't write as much poetry about it as I once did. The Quaker identity is newer, and so sorting out my relationship to it takes much more of my time and energy, and leaves me more to write about.
Still, it seems important to me to be able to answer questions about Paganism when they crop up, and hopefully more thoughtfully and from the heart than the somewhat intellectual answer I left Rich with. Paganism, though, is hard to describe--just as with Quaker practice, so much of what Pagans are is in the living, rather than the theory, that finding words to describe what we are about can be difficult.
Happily, reading Erik's blog at Executive Pagan, I just discovered that he did a very good job talking about how he (and to some extent, I) see and experience the Gods, in a post entitled Why Polytheism? Now, my own story is not the same as his--Erik describes himself as a "hard polytheist" and I think I probably fall at the other end of his spectrum, as a "soft polytheist"--my experiences lead me to believe that we are all "one at the root"--not the same as one another on one level, any more than apples and leaves are the same thing--and yet, they can be all connected parts of the same tree. I am not Erik, and he is not me, but, in other ways, we're both part of something bigger that joins us.
I think it's the same way with the Gods--that they both are and are not the same as this planet, our selves, and one another. I would never say that Jesus and Herne are just aspects of the same God... but I do think they both spring from the same sacred fountain... or grow from the same deep root.
What's especially nice to find on Erik's blog is his experience of the divine in more than one setting. One of the stops on his road to Hellenic Paganism was active participation in his local synogogue. Even though his world-view was already Pagan, singing in the synogogue's choir and attending services there led to his "next religious experiences, of the Presence of what I can only assume is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob....That shook me up a bit, as you might imagine; but in a roundabout way it confirmed my tendency toward polytheism... ...While the Persons I encountered were clearly not identical, they were also clearly of the same Being-ness," he writes.
And for those who care to know, that story most definately speaks to my condition. Though my guesses about what the fundamental nature of Gods and the universe might be differ from Erik's in some ways, I agree with him emphatically that "whatever may be the true nature of What Is, we can't fully understand it." Given that, I think it's important to honor our direct experiences of God/s, whenever we are lucky enough to have them, rather than our preconceptions of what may be. (This seems to me to be a very Quaker, even more than a very Pagan, approach to religion, incidentally.)
I'll also join my voice to his when he writes, "I am also, at this point in my thinking, a pretty firmly convinced panentheist: I do think that there is some sort of ultimate Unity of which all things, including the material universe, the Gods, and us, are a part, and that It is more than just the sum of Its parts."
I'm not a Hellenic Pagan, and I've never attended a synogogue. But in some very important ways, Erik's story is my story, and I will let it speak for me for now.