Skip to main content

Peter asks, what thou speakest, is it inwardly from the Gods?

Last month, I went to the annual gathering of Friends General Conference, one of the large umbrella organizations that many of the Yearly Meetings belong to.  While there, I met several other Friends who also identify as Pagan.  One of them wrote to me afterwards, asking himself questions about the compatibility of Quaker and Pagan religious paths.  What follows is based on my response to him: 

What Quakerism and Paganism share most profoundly is that both are experiential religions.  Neither one demands that you believe a doctrine or recite a creed, but both lead you through experiences by which you come to experience the Divine directly.

Those experiences often happen on a level that is wordless.  The Gods transcend language, but human beings live by words.  The Gods break us open, changing us at our deepest levels; words knit us together again in our new forms.  All of the Quaker testimonies, and all of the Pagan myths, are afterthoughts, and subject to change.

Not random change.  Not change at our whim.  It is a common misconception about Quakers and Pagans that both religions allow you to believe whatever you want.  The truth is that both religions ask you to undertake discernment.  As a Pagan, you do not choose your patron deity; your Deity chooses you.  As a Quaker, you do not (or should not—though many do)  argue you point in a business meeting with logic and powerful rhetoric; you listen for the movement of Spirit within the meeting, and when the gathered body comes to unity, it is not consensus with each other, it is Unity with the Discerned Will of God.

There is a saying among Quakers, something along the lines of “Be faithful to the Light thou hast been given, and more will be given unto thee.”  I don’t remember who said it, or even whether it was something from the eighteenth century or the twenty-first, but it expresses the idea of faithfulness as the grounding for continuing revelation.  I haven’t heard Pagans express the same idea, but the same thing clearly happens if you look at Pagan practice over time, both of individuals and of communities.  Each generation of Wiccan leaders since Gerald Gardner has become more grounded and more spiritually centered, and it feels like it is the Gods who have been leading us in that direction.

Paganism has had much less time to evolve than has Quakerism (70-some-odd years vs. 350 or so) and I think there are tools in the Quaker toolkit that could benefit Pagans greatly, especially our practice of corporate discernment.  There also seem to be a lot of Quakers who hunger for some Pagan insights, like our explicit recognition of the sacredness of the Earth, and our flexibility in how we conceptualize and talk about the Divine.  The two traditions don’t match up perfectly, but they complement one another in some powerful ways.

In framing his questions, the “Quagan” I met at FGC was defining Paganism by quoting from a variety of Pagan writings, and he looked to Faith and Practice to try to find equivalent Testimonies to what several writers had identified as defining characteristics of Paganism.  In the end, I paraphrased George Fox:  

You say Diana Paxton said this, and Margaret Fell said that: but what canst thou say?  Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from the Gods?



Comments

Morgan said…
In much of what you say here, you speak my mind.
Melissa said…
Thank you, Peter. I've been trying to formulate for myself how they intersect, overlap, support each other, knowing in my heart that they do. But I wasn't able to articulate it.

If it's helpful at all, the quote is from Caroline Fox, I think: "Live up to the Light thou hast and more will be granted thee."
Ingrid Warren said…
I am just of to Woodbrooke, a Quaker Study Centre here in England for a course entitled "The Goddess and the Green Man in the Quaker",one of several Quaker Pagan courses I have attended over the years. I was searching for Quakers and Pagans when I found your blog. This was a perfect beginning of the course for me, perfectly summing up my beliefs. Thank you
Hystery said…
Yes. I greatly appreciate what you have written here.
Meryem said…
Wonderful blog Peter. I must say that it is beautifully written by you. Keep it up.

Popular posts from this blog

What Do You Mean, Quaker Pagan?

"What do you mean, Quaker Pagan? You can't possibly be both!" Every now and then, we do get a comment on the blog that, if politely worded, does drive at basically that point. Usually the critic is a Quaker and a Christian, though I have certainly heard similar points raised by Pagans. Let me state a few things up front. Peter and I both do consider ourselves Pagan. Neither of us considers ourselves to be Christian--I never was one, and Peter hasn't been for decades. And we do consider ourselves to be Quakers... as does our monthly meeting, which extended us membership after the normal clearness process. We consider ourselves Quaker Pagans. (Why not Pagan Quakers? Pure aesthetics; we think the word order sounds better with Q before P.) Here's the argument for why Peter and I can't possibly be both: 1. Paganism is a non-Christian religion. 2. Quakers are a Christian denomination. 3. ERGO... Yes. We've considered that argument, oddly eno

Red in Tooth and Claw

When Nora, Peter's grandmother, lived with us , our household was the nucleus of an active local Pagan community. Over time, dementia eroded more and more of Nora's ability to retain anything she learned about in the present, so she wound up discovering again and again that she was living in a family of Pagans. Over and over, we would have made some reference to our Paganism, and Nora, having forgotten about it for the time being, would ask us to explain again what it was we believed. We would explain, yet again, about all of life being sacred to us, and nature being the source of our inspiration. Each time we did this, we would reach the point in our discussion where she would protest, quoting the line from Tennyson about " Nature, red in tooth and claw ." Nevertheless, we would insist that that was where we looked for the holy, and eventually, she would exclaim (just as she had the time before that): "Well, then, you're all heathens!" When we

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected. For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical. A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, lo