Columbia: The Goddess of the United States


washingtondc-goddess-columbiaWhether you think of her as an archetype, a land spirit, or an old goddess with a new name, Columbia is the name that some Pagans are starting to reclaim as the personified ideals of America.

In the early history of the United States, Columbia was visualized as a goddess-like female national personification of the United States and of Liberty itself.   Some historians claim that she emerged from the imagination of Chief Justice Samuel Sewall of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who in 1697, wrote a poem suggesting that America’s Colonies be called Columbina, a feminization of Christopher Columbus’ last name.  Her association as America’s Goddess was reinforced 70 years later when, Phillis Wheatley, a former slave and the first published African-American female poet, wrote an ode to General George Washington invoking Miss Columbia in 1775.   In 1798, Joseph Hopkinson wrote lyrics for Philip Phile’s 1789 inaugural “President’s March” under the new title of “Hail, Columbia” which was once used as de facto national anthem of the United States until 1931.  In 1801, our seat of government was renamed from the Territory of Columbia to its current name, the District of Columbia.  In the War of 1812, Miss Columbia began appearing in political cartoons, and by the mid-19th century, she was a common figure in political cartoons as well as in the literary realm.  By the 1890s, women dressed up as Miss Columbia for patriotic events.  In various World War I posters, Columbia pleaded, beseeched, and implored viewers to save food, send their sons to war and buy bonds.  In World War II, Columbia reappeared with the same pleas.

The image of the personified Columbia was never fixed, but she was most often presented as a woman between youth and middle age, wearing classically draped garments decorated with the stars and stripes; a popular version gave her a red-and-white striped dress and a blue blouse, shawl, or sash spangled with white stars. Her headdress varied; sometimes it included feathers reminiscent of a Native American headdress, sometimes it was a laurel wreath but most often it was a cap of liberty.” (This liberty, or Phrygian, cap, is a soft conical cap with the top pulled forward. In late Republican Rome, such a cap served as a symbol of freedom from tyranny. It has been used to symbolize liberty in numerous countries of the Americas.)


A defiant Columbia in an 1871 Thomas Nast cartoon, shown protecting a defenseless Chinese man from an angry Irish lynch mob that has just burned down an orphanage.

By 1920, the Statue of Liberty replaced Columbia as the primary female representation of the United States in most instances.  Though often used interchangeably, some still distinguished Columbia is the United States personified, and Libertas (Lady Liberty) is the personification of freedom.

Today, images of Columbia, or other similar divine feminine representations,  adorn the entrances to all of the major federal government buildings in Washington, D.C. She stands blindfolded, faithfully balancing the scales in front of the Department of Justice. She is the source of Inspiration and Knowledge displayed at the entrance to the Department of Education. She is the Goddess of New Life, abundance, provision and harvest who offers her cornucopia to her subjects at the Department of Agriculture. She stands guard atop the Capitol Building and from behind the Speaker of the House’s podium. America’s Goddess watches, protects and guides from atop her silent perch; encouraging her subjects to set aside selfish desires and serve her in faithful submission. Some might even see the temple of our Goddess, the “District of Columbia,” does not allow its citizens to vote based partly on the notion that all who come to the “district of the Goddess” should forfeit their individual egos and agendas and instead work for the Great Goddess and her agenda of liberty, justice and democratic self-governance.

Today, many Contemporary Pagans see the Goddess Columbia as an important matriarch of the United States and the symbol of those ideas.  In 1993, for example, Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits led a group in consecrating a statute of the Goddess of Freedom when it was brought down to ground level for cleaning and restoration.

What can we learn from the Goddess Columbia today? Most Contemporary Pagans practice a spiritual practice encompassing both a masculine and feminine divine, but they also recognize the dominance of patriarchy in today’s moral and spiritual thoughts.   When our country was founded, it was seen as a kind of magickal future for the human race.   Radical new principles embodied by Columbia such as freedom of speech, thought, and religion were integrated into our laws as inalienable rights.   Unfortunately, many see the United States  ignoring or at least down playing many of these principles.  It is important for more people to remember Columbia, and bring the feminine back into the language of our democracy. We live in a changing world. As a society, we are on the cusp of great change. The way we actively pursue that change will forge our future.   The Goddess Columbia expects no less.



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Classical Elements in Contemporary Paganism

The Four Classical ElementsA pre-Socrates magician-philosopher, Empedocles of Acragas (c. 495-435 BCE), is the first to be credited in western civilization with the dogma that everything consisted of combinations of four basic components — fire, water, air, earth — which he called “roots.”  In his writings he also appears to make it clear that he found these roots as more than just material substances, even associating them with the Gods Zeus, Hera, Nestis, and Aidoneus.

Simplifying the physical world to these easily observable and basic functional units was later embraced by other Greek philosophers, to include Aristotle, and the four classical elements became the cornerstone of Western philosophy, science, and medicine for the next two thousand years.  Ancient cultures in Egypt, Babylonia, Japan, Tibet, and India also had similar but different lists.  For example, the Chinese Wu Xing system lists Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water though these are described more as energies or transitions than as types of material.

Today, science has taught us that there are 118 known elements with 94 naturally occurring on Earth, but many Contemporary Pagans still find value in viewing the world as composed of these four classical elements.

  1. Simplifying our View of the World. The world is complex and simplifying the world into the four classical elements helps them as they resacralize the world around them. How would you relate to Osmium, Bismuth, Strontium, or Meitnerium? Just as the ancients were able to visualize and relate to a world composed of four basic elements, so do some Contemporary Pagans today.    For example, when you think of “Earth” what comes to mind? Perhaps you feel the stable element of solidity and grounding. Or maybe you see Earth as the third planet from the Sun. Or for you, Earth the rich brown soil in your own backyard? Earth is all these things and more. Earth can be found in the language we use every day. Next time you hear the phrase “down to Earth” think about the words and what they mean. More and more each year, people are drawn to things that help reconnect them to the Earth. Looking at the world around us in simpler ways allows Contemporary Pagans to see the world more real, more alive and allows us to see it in more sacred and magickal ways.
  2. Finding Relationships.  Some Contemporary Pagans in their personal world views find relationships between apparently unconnected things such as emotions, objects, actions, qualities and symbols. These relationships are called ‘correspondences’.   Each is used to suggest another. Contemporary Pagans will often create correspondence tables based on the relationships that they find.  For example, Aleister Crowley’s ‘777’ contains many tables of these relationships or ‘correspondence tables’. Various tables of correspondences are also found in Chinese traditional and Indian Ayurvedic healthcare manuals.One of the most popular correspondence tables is that relating to the classical elements. For example, let’s look at the element of Air. Of all the elements, Air is perhaps the most elusive. It can be the most difficult to describe, but can also be one of the most vibrant. Air brings us the light sensation of a cool breeze, the sudden rage of a storm, and the sweet smell of every scent we experience. When we breathe certain scents, we can easily visualize the source and may often even taste or feel it. When we think of Air, we may think of filling our lungs and with it communications or singing. Each one of these may lead to more relationships: communications may lead us to think of learning, intellect, community, anger or joy; singing may lead us to music, dancing, joy, and movement. As we dwell on the essence of Air, as with any of the elements, and its relationships, Contemporary Pagans increase their understanding of the interconnectedness and sacredness of everything around them.
  3. Comparing and Contrasting. Breaking things into simple groupings allows us to compare and contrast easier. Comparative thinking is one of our first and most natural forms of thought. Without the ability to make comparisons—to set one object or idea against another and take note of similarities and differences—much of what we call learning would quite literally be impossible. Breaking something down into smaller chunks allows you to see more clearly how the pieces fit, and how to tackle each piece individually. This can often help get you started in problem solving because now you have identified tasks that you can actually do. Though comparing and contrasting four things, versus two or seven, is a subjective choice, many Pagans find that some things fall naturally into groupings of four just as Empedocles found when he developed his philosophy.  For example, Hermetic and Wiccan magic often refers to the Four Powers of Sphinx which are related to the four classical elements: to know (air), to will (fire), to dare (water), to keep silent (earth). (These are also known as the Four Powers of the Magi, Motto of the Sphinx, the Four Pillars, the Powers of the Elements, the Witch’s Pyramid, and the Magic Pyramid). Taken together, they form a “simple but not easy” program of personal improvement and spiritual development as well as a useful framework for decision making.

The Elements in Magic

As Empedocles associated the Elements with the Gods, Contemporary Pagans will often view the Elements in more than their symbolic form and instead view them as powers of nature and with it have developed an extensive, and often complex, theology surrounding them.

For example, let us touch on some of the theology surrounding the Element of Fire from a classical Greek perspective.  Empedocles distinguished Fire as the Agent of Action (Kinêtikê) among the Elements.  In Vehicles of the Soul described in Neoplatonic lore and Chaldean Theurgy, Fire is the radiant body, while Earth and Water correspond to the gross body, Air to the spirit body.  The radiant body (augoeides), also known as the astral body (astroeides) or aitherial body, is the vehicle of the Higher Soul, which is responsible for the intellect, including discursive reason, but also for the Rational Will.   In the myths, Prometheus created humans by mixing Earth and Water to create the gross body; and then Athena breathed Air into it and imbued it with a Spirit-Soul. Prometheus added the Higher Soul, which is the Fire that He took from the Wheel of the Sun and brought to humanity in a Narthêx (giant fennel) stalk.  Hippocrates says that the soul is an Immortal Warmth (Athanatos Thermon), which sees, hears and knows everything; most of this Warmth is pushed to the outermost sphere, where it is called Aithêr, and forms a kind of Fiery World Soul.

A more common use of the Elements is in Contemporary Pagan ritual in the form of the Watchtowers.  The concept of the Watchtowers come from Christian Enochian magic, got a makeover by the Golden Dawn, and found their way into Wicca.  The Watchtowers are a tutelary or guardian spirit of one of the four cardinal points or “quarters” (north, east, south, and west) that are used during ritual to help create a boundary for a ceremonial circle or sacred space. They are also variously associated in many traditions with each the four classical elements.  The Watchtowers may be asked to “guard” the boundaries, or they may be invited into the ritual to share their “powers” often related to their correspondences.

The Elements are also commonly associated with various magickal tools or objects.  For example, you may see Air associated with the athame or ritual knife, Fire with a wand, Water with a Chalice, and Earth with a Pentacle though various traditions may use different associations.   In Tarot, they might be relate Swords to Air, Wands to Fire, Cups to Water and Pentacles/Coins to Earth but again, you may find different associations used.


The classical elements, like most broad spiritual concepts, can have many uses and meanings. Try to step back a bit from traditional teachings and cultural norms, even within .  Avoid charts created by others and work to developing your own spiritual understandings.  Create your own lists of properties and correspondences.  Elements are multi-dimensional.  Look at things from a variety of angles. Look for how these magical forces manifest in very simple ways within your own surroundings. Often we draw the boundary between magical and mundane; nature does not.

“…if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.” ~ Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente



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The Mysterious Cat

Mysterious CatIn a small town bar in a small village, the town’s people gathered for community, banter, philosophy and gossip as they did most weeks.

As conversation flowed, Jessup asked everyone if they had seen the strange cat.  “Last night when I looked out into my back yard, I saw this strange cat run fleetingly by.  It was all black with fierce green eyes,” said Jessup.  “I did not get a good look at him though, but he looked like something that should not be messed with.”

“The only cat around here is an old grey feline” said Alfred.  “It comes around my house nightly when I take out my trash.  I usually throw him a few scraps and he wanders away.  I am not sure where he came from since we haven’t had any cats around here in ages.”

Carl announced that he had definitely seen the cat and always left a bowl of warm milk out for him to enjoy.  “The cat never howls at my house,” he stated.  He argued that he has found that kindness always attracts the best in people.  “The cat has become an important part of my daily routine and I am not sure what I would do without him,” he said.  “I am so glad that he came into my life.”

Doug said that he remembers seeing the cat once and even looked it up in a book to see what kind it was.  “You all must be seeing him in the dim light,” Doug said.  “The cat is definitely a long-haired Persian; and according to the book, you should never feed him anything but fresh fish. The book also says that your must leave it someplace where it can be found and then walk away, because he doesn’t like to be watched.”  Though Dough admitted to never actually seeing the cat eat the fish, he always had faith that the cat would be satisfied.

Bob spoke up and complained that the cat must be the one that always bothers him in the middle of the night by sitting on the fence outside his window howling.  “The cat looked more auburn to me though, but it must have been the same cat.  I usually throw a boot at him to make him go away.  Cats are such a pest and we would do good to be rid of it. Attaching yourself to a cat can only lead to it being dependent on you.”

Greg laughed at the rest of them and said that he found it to be a very friendly cat that always came up to him for petting.  He even confessed to talking with the cat who appeared to listen to him closely.  “I would say that she was more of a Siamese cat though,” he said.  He challenged the book and argued that it was best to find out what the cat liked by trying different things.  “You should treat the cat as an individual.  I have found that he likes hard cat food the best.”

Kyle laughed at them all and accused them of not knowing the difference between a boy and a girl cat.  “She is definitely a girl.  They have a certain walk and look about them,” he said. “And besides, the cat acts so much like my dead mother-in-law, I would swear that this cat was a reincarnation of her.”

As the townspeople continued to argue amongst themselves as to the behavior, desires and description of this cat, the last of the cats wandered into the abandon barn on the other side of town to sleep until their next outing.


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The Spiritual DNA of a Contemporary Pagan

“If we pursue a spiritual path in depth, then it changes who and what we are. There is no turning back. We can only move forward.” — Vivianne Crowley

In a book by Robert Norton and Richard Southern called SoulTypes: Decode Your Spiritual DNA to Create a Life of Authenticity, Joy, and Grace, the authors established four directions or forms the religious impulse could take, or as they refer to it, “our spiritual DNA.” treesThese forms are heart-centered, soul-centered, mind-centered, and strength-centered. This essay will attempt to examine Contemporary Paganism from within this framework.


Heart-centered spirituality is expressed through gratitude. They place priority on feelings, emotions, personal renewal and transformation. They people hunger for connection and joyful experiences in religion. They find blessings in everyday living and look for the goodness in others and in the world. They find the spark of sacredness in everything around them and attempt to resacralize the world.

Many Pagans believe in the Law of Attraction — the notion that if we surround ourselves with good, we will attract positive things back to us. It’s the age-old concept of “like attracts like.” Part of that theory is that by showing gratitude, you can cultivate more good things to come your way. They believe in the generosity of the Divine and the Universe, and believe that we only have to ask to receive that which we need, want and desire.

Their gratitude drives them to not only to appreciate what they have been given but to care for those who gave it to them. It is a desire to give back, to demonstrate appreciation. As Cicero first noted: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”


Soul-centered spirituality is expressed by those that are intuitive and contemplative. They view life as a sacred journey. Their outlook tends toward the mystical and they are usually attracted to eclectic practices from other religions such as meditation, trance, divination, and chakras. Ritual is extremely important to them as means to connect to the Divine, and magick as a means to assert their will. Their religious tool box is usually full of crystals, altars and other magickal tools.

This spirituality is not necessarily exclusively internal though as ecopsychologists James Hillman writes: “an individual’s harmony with his or her ‘own deep self’ requires not merely a journey to the interior but a harmonizing with the environmental world. The deepest self cannot be confined to ‘in here’ because we can’t be sure it is not also or even entirely ‘out there’!” Carl Jung wrote in his autobiography about his increasing identification with the natural world when he said: “In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”


Mind-centered spirituality prefer orderly thought and intellectual exploration of life’s meaning. Knowledge and complex ideas nourish these types.
The Pagan community is full of free thinkers. It’s full of people who question authority, and who try to make right decisions based upon their own moral codes, rather than what may be popular or fashionable. They do not take things at face value, they ask questions, and they don’t accept what they are told just because someone tells you to or because it is written in a book.

Many Reconstructionists practice this spirituality as they emphasize the study of lore and the religious practices of the past to improve their own lives. They reject eclectic practices in favor of cultural specificity. By studying the ancient literature and the regional folklore, they try to envision what the religion might look like today if they had been uninterrupted by Christianity, remaining the same religion but changing in form with the changing times. They take great umbrage when their cultural religious practices and/or Gods are misappropriated and/or misinterpreted by Neo-pagan groups. They emphasize “hard” polytheism (many deities, each as a separate and distinct being), and have a skeptical attitude toward modern unifying theologies, such as Wiccan duotheism (“All gods are one God; all goddesses, one Goddess.”); the triple goddess paradigms (Maiden-Mother-Crone); and (3) Jungian archetypalism. Some Reconstructionist traditions include Asatru, Hellenismos, Romuva, Celtic Reconstructionists and Kemetic Revivalism.


Strength-centered spirituality see life as an opportunity to create a better society and seeks to serve others. Formal belief systems are less important to these types and direct action can be one of its expressions. Walking the talk with integrity is important for this type of spirituality to flourish. These are the social and environmental activists such as T. Thorn Coyle and Starhawk. Some of the causes promoted by pagan groups include environmental protection, gender and racial equality, LGBT rights and the preservation of sacred indigenous sites. They see the earth as alive, and as a living being they oppose those that want to destroy her. They also see human beings as embodiments of the sacred, as embodiments of the divine, and they cannot sit back and let people be oppressed, hurt, or made to suffer. As a minority religion, many Pagans are activists in preserving religious freedoms by supporting interfaith work and educating the public about their own religion in order to eliminate fears through such movements as the annual Pagan Pride Day held world-wide every year.

Think about your own path and those of others in the Pagan Community. None of these should be considered greater than another. Often there is overlap. The best part about exploring your spirituality is that it is yours. Don’t worry about what your spouse is doing or what your friend thinks, it is about what makes you happy. Discovering and enhancing your spiritual life is intensely personal, and while I encourage you to share some of your experiences with like-minded folk, make sure you’re surrounding yourself with supportive people. Be yourself and seek out whatever brings you into alignment with your own cosmic energy and inner peace.

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“I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.” – Creating Your Own Religion

1In religion, agency is the capacity of a person to have direct control of your own beliefs and actions. Do you take control of your beliefs, or do you allow others to tell you what to think? Do you value their experiences more than your own? Do you see yourself less sacred that others?

Though some Wiccans practice in a religious tradition that is highly dogmatic and structured, the vast majority of Wiccans have created their own religious practices. Though there may be some common threads in their practices, most choose to call themselves Wiccans because of their choice to walk together and not because of some common mandatory belief or practice. Most Wiccans understand that no one needs to compromise their faith in order to be friends and work together for the common good. The act of being part of a religion should not mean losing our individual identities, but rather finding a way to create an environment that combines our talents and skills to create something that is mutually beneficial.

Wiccans have often found that religion is important to them, but they do not like the standard choices on the menu, including those that may have been created by Wiccans that have come before them. Instead, the majority of Contemporary Wiccans today have decided to create their own religion by doing the following:

1. They create their own scripture. Every religion seems to have a holy book. In Wicca, it is called the Book of Shadows. But unlike book religions, this book is a personal creation. In it, a Wiccan collects quotes, passages, entire books, songs, poems, spells, chants, recipes, herbal remedies, rituals, whatever, that have the weight of ultimate truth for them. These may be hand-written in beautifully crafted leather bound journal, typed and tabbed in a three-hole binder for easy reference, or even placed on a computer or the internet. The choice is theirs. Sometimes groups will create a book together, but most Wiccans still copy what is written into their own book.

2. They create their own rituals. A set of sacred rituals is the structure of a religion. Sometimes Wiccans will create them in concert with other Wiccans, but often they are individual or solitary rituals. A lot of Wiccans find that the most powerful rituals are the ones that they create themselves. Even though the traditional ritual structures have evolved, Wiccans often find that it is acceptable to mix them up and be creative if something different works better for them. Though there are plenty of books being sold that provide examples of rituals, most Wiccans have learned to use them for ideas and incorporate the parts that feel right to them.

3. They re-sacralize the world around them and find a connection with everything. Not only do they find every single human sacred, but they also often find everything else a part of the Divine, seen or unseen. They find common elements taking on uncommon, miraculous powers and functions. They seek out things that move them. Is it music? Then they include incorporate chants, songs, drumming and other musical elements into their religious practices. Is it nature? Then they seek to place their religious practices where nature can be observed. Is it mythology? Then they seek to ancient stories and wisdom of their ancestors.  Is it gemstones, herbs, and other natural materials?  Is it the heavens above?   They pay attention to what moves them and incorporates it and venerates it. They then canonize it into their personal scripture.

4. They acknowledge some version of a higher power. They often view the Divine as encompassing both masculine and feminine aspects. They connect to the Divine in the form that makes sense to them. Feminists have often chosen Wicca because they find it easier to connect to the Divine in her feminine form and call her Goddess. Others see the Divine as exemplifying some important value such as justice, strength, healing, creativity, or family.  Many have relationships with a wide variety of Gods and Goddesses, some with perhaps a handful who are rather special to them, and others to one special patron.

5. They borrow from other religions. There is nothing with borrowing. If there is something they like in the Bible, the Koran, the Kama Sutra, they easily include it into their own personal religion.  They find some paths very compatible to your own beliefs.  They find it hard to imagine any tradition that could not be enriched by the ideas and practices of another. Some might argue that you should get an good understanding of those ideas and practices from the perspective of the religion that you borrowed from, but others would say that the ultimate truth of those ideas and practices are derived from within and how you choose to use them.

6. They find groups of like-minded friends. Call it a support group. Some may create a formal group based on the practices of a specific tradition, but often they are informal groupings.  Even those based on a specific tradition will often pick and choose parts that they like, and then add or modify their own practices.  These groups tend to be small and have a short lifespan as the member’s spiritual paths cross and then separate again. They realize that they do not all have to believe in the same thing to enjoy each other’s company, share their experiences, learn from each other, and create ritual together. Wiccans are generally opposed to proselytizing, or trying to convert someone to accept their views or religion, so these groups are not often advertised or known to the public. Their meetings also do not necessarily need to be formal either. For example, I find a lot of religious value in a monthly “Coffee Coven” that I host where we meet at a local restaurant and share with one another in a safe and fun environment.

They do tend to avoid some of the toxins of organized religion: exclusivity, an emphasis on life after death, a hatred of the body and sexuality, the authoritarianism of the patriarchy, an exaggeration of the sinfulness and self-disgust of human beings, a legalistic morality that is aggressive and judgmental, and the demonization and persecution of independent thinkers and other free spirits.

By creating their own religion, Wiccans do not consider themselves less religious than those that join an organized religion. The truth is, most Wiccans, whether a member of a traditional structure or not, are extremely knowledgeable and well-studied within many differing aspects and traditions of their Craft.   Even “traditional” paths have vast difference among them, so what exactly is it that makes them more correct than these new religious practices? Is it Ego?  Do they believe that they are uniquely special and their interpretation of the Divine is the only acceptable one? Is it insecurity?  Do they justify our their beliefs by condemning others?

There is nothing wrong with being part of a pre-existing, “organized religion”, but Wiccans enjoy having the option of creating their own religion and connecting with the Divine and the world around them in much more meaningful ways than what could have been attained otherwise.

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Religious Cosmology – Making Sense of the Universe

“He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Pythagorean's Hearth of the Universe

The diagram is not to scale, and the planets are aligned for convenience in illustration; generally they were distributed around the spheres.

In 1994, the Czech poet-president Vaclav Havel stated during a speech about the state of the world that “We may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us….”

“The Universe” is a word that we invented to describe everything we can imagine. Cosmology is the study of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of that universe.  Physical cosmology is exploring these questions from a scientific viewpoint, while esoteric or spiritual cosmology concerns itself with the philosophical questions of our place in the universe, the nature of reality beyond its physicality, and understanding and explaining why everything came to be.  The primary source of esoteric/religious cosmology is from our historical, mythological, religious, and esoteric literature, as well as our traditions.

Ancient Cosmology

Anthropologists tell us that in almost all traditional cultures, its religious/esoteric cosmology that gives its members their fundamental sense of where they come from, who they are, and what their purpose is in life’s larger picture.  The stories that they create and share explain their sacred relationship with that universe.

Ancient cosmology started with stories and myths, but soon expanded to include elements of philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. For example, the earliest Greek cosmology myths identified the planets with the Ancient Roman gods Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and found that they were divine enough to influence people’s lives.  The Pythagoreans created a cosmology that included mathematics, music and astronomy.  They described a universe consisting of all the visible heavenly bodies, including the sun, revolving around a central fire invisible to human eyes. However, the Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed that the heavens were literally composed of 55 concentric, crystalline spheres to which the celestial objects were attached and which rotated at different velocities (but the angular velocity was constant for a given sphere), with the Earth at the center.  They also believed that as they moved, they gave forth musical sounds, “the harmony of the spheres.”  The earth being the center of our universe became the predominant cosmological view until the Middle Ages, and ancient religious and societal structures were created based on this view.

As we gained a greater scientific understanding of space, Galileo, Kepler and the other proponents of a heliocentric system introduced a universe that was empty space, vast distances, no center, no purpose, no place for God, and no obvious implications for human behavior.  This resulted in disrupting these ancient religious and societal structures and beliefs, and sometimes in very profound ways.  Blaise Pascal wrote, “engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I am terrified…. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces alarms me.”

Modern Cosmology

Today religion and science seems to be at odds because they present apparently conflicting and opposing views of cosmology in western civilization today:

  • The cosmos is created and ruled by a Distant Patriarch. (View held by most Abrahamic Religions)
  • The cosmos is a Grand Machine. (View held by Science)
  • The cosmos is a manifestation of a spiritual intelligence. (Pantheism, Panentheism)

Contemporary Pagans have generally adopted the third view and see the Divine and the universe as identical (pantheism) or see the Divine as greater than the universe but contained within her (panentheism).  While Pantheism sees everything as sacred and divine, panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.  In either case, Contemporary Pagans view the universe as an expression of the Divine and have created a spirituality based on a sacred journey of discovery and connecting.

Cosmology Myths

Science has made us more knowledgeable of the physical universe and perhaps it has made it harder for us to find value it the cosmology myths of ancients.  Their stories may even appear a bit silly to modern eyes.  But there is still great value in them.  Our cosmology myths are rooted in our culture and provide us a constant reminder of who we are and where we come from.  They help us identify our cultural heritage and allows us to keep that heritage alive.  They illustrate basic paradigms that are intrinsic to that culture; and intrinsic to their aspirations and dreams.  They foster a shared set of perspectives, values, history and creates a connection to one another, to our ancestors, to the natural world surrounding us, and to society.

Because Contemporary Pagans feel that human beings have become tragically disconnected from the natural world and have desacralized nature, we have found great value and truths in these ancient stories and myths.  We often create spiritual practices  based on the ideas expressed in these stories.  We seek to reconnect to Divine’s creations, and thereby connecting to the Divine. By reconnecting to the universe, we learn to interact with it.  We see the cosmology myths allow us to transcend our common lives into a vast universe that fascinates us, inspires us, and enables us to look outside ourselves.  They provide explanations where philosophical or scientific discourse would be incomprehensible.  They give purpose and guidelines for living.  They stimulate our imagination and feelings, where the effect can be more profound and life-changing than that from intellectual comprehension.

For example, some lessons that the Norse cosmogony story in which Odin and his brothers slew Ymir and set about constructing the world from his corpse, might include:

  1. Life comes from Death. Creation never occurs in a vacuum. Destruction of what exists before creation is often necessary.
  2. Flesh and Matter. That the visible world is the organic manifestation of spirit, as opposed to a transcendent Divine.
  3. Creation as ongoing and participatory. All of the inhabitants of the Nine Worlds have some role, some agency, in the creation process, however great or small.


Physical and religious/esoteric cosmology should not be at odds, but have two different but similar roles.  Together they answer the biggest ‘Why’, and hence, they are valuable.   But while physical cosmology provides scientific answers to satisfy our intellectual curiosity, religious/esoteric cosmology enables us to confront our most basic human truths and gives us the opportunity to better understand them, learn from them, and possibly even apply them to our own everyday life.

Contemporary Pagans understand the difference between science and religion, and does not find them in contention.  Where religious/esoteric cosmology does not accurate reflect our physical cosmology, they find that it can still provides us a valid way to look at the world and attain spiritual growth.


From Chapter 3, Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, by Charles G. Leland, [1899]:

Important Note:  Do not stereotype Lucifer or Diana from a Abrahamic religious viewpoint.

Diana was the first created before all creation; in her were all things; out of herself, the first darkness, she divided herself; into darkness and light she was divided. Lucifer, her brother and son, herself and her other half, was the light.

And when Diana saw that the light was so beautiful, the light which was her other half, her brother Lucifer, she yearned for it with exceeding great desire. Wishing to receive the light again into her darkness, to swallow it up in rapture, in delight, she trembled with desire. This desire was the Dawn.

But Lucifer, the light, fled from her, and would not yield to her wishes; he was the light which files into the most distant parts of heaven, the mouse which flies before the cat.

Then Diana went to the fathers of the Beginning, to the mothers, the spirits who were before the first spirit, and lamented unto them that she could not prevail with Lucifer. And they praised her for her courage, they told her that to rise she must fall; to become the chief of goddesses she must become a mortal.

And in the ages, in the course of time, when the world was made, Diana went on earth, as did Lucifer, who had fallen, and Diana taught magic and sorcery, whence came witches and fairies and goblins–all that is like man, yet not mortal.

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Worshiping the Divine in a Contemporary Pagan Way

Pagan AltarContemporary Pagans see the Divine in many diverse ways. Some see many distinct Gods and Goddesses, some as one or two, some as archetypes, some as within nature, and others as nature itself. By not being tied down by the customs of an established religion or by the dogmas of a revealed one, Pagans interact with the Divine in very creative, individualistic, and even playful ways.

The word “worship” comes from the Old English weordhscipe meaning to honor or give worth to something. Pagan worship is mainly concerned with connection to, and the honoring of, immanent Divine. It is a religion that worships the Divine not by submission or with the view that we are defective and broke, but that we are manifestations of the Divine.   Most importantly, we have sovereignty.

We render honor and respect, not submission, and we retain our sovereignty when dealing with the Gods even if we are not their equals.  To understand sovereignty in its Pagan sense, is to know that we own nothing and no one — not our spouse, not our children, not our world, and not our Gods — nor does anyone or anything own us.  We are the stewards of the things in our possession and the people in our care. We nurture them as a farmer would nurture their crops. Our sovereignty flows from our inherent worth, value and rights.

Rituals is one means by which we communicate with the Divine. We communicate not only with our voice and conscious minds, but through our emotions and the depths of the unconscious mind. We invite the Divine to our rituals.  We prepare our ritual space for our honored guest, we dress up, we set out things to make them feel more welcome, we play their favorite music, we display their favorite colors and items, and we even offer food and drink.  We honor their presence with us  with human hospitality not because we consider them human, but because as humans that is how we can relate to them.  There is a moment that, as good hosts, we acknowledge and thank them for their presence and honor them.

Most rituals tend to be celebratory in nature, especially those associated with the Pagan Wheel of the Year.  During this events, the ritual is not focused on worshiping the Divine, but rather worshiping WITH them.

Most day-to-day Pagan worship is done through reading and retelling their myths, creating altars and shrines, wearing symbols and tokens inspired by them, and acting and living as they would expect us to. We seek to build a relationship. We get to know them.  We make a space for them. We talk and listen to them and heed their counsel. And we thank them when it is appropriate to do so.

But the most important way we worship the Divine is by improving ourselves. Pagan worship is not appeasement, but rather telling our best friend, thank you!

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