I wrote the bulk of this post after finishing Witch Crafting by Phyllis Curott. Something she said near the end of the book stuck in my craw. I've been musing over it for a while now, asking others for their thoughts.
Curott is not alone in what I'm about to discuss - those who have read The Spiral Dance by Starhawk will recognise it. It is the concept of the gods not as real entities, but as, to use Curott's words, "anthropomorphic metaphors".
I know there are Pagans who don't believe in gods. That's fine. There are Pagans who view deities as archetypes or, indeed, anthropomorphic metaphors with whom one can work to understand more about one's own mind, in a Jungian sort of way. But I had, heretofore, imagined that most of these not-really-theistic Pagans were up front about it. You come across them, from time to time. Even if one disagrees with how they refer to the gods, they tend to be honest about their beliefs. But, as I have discovered, it is not always so.
What I don't really understand is why a person would bother spending so much time and effort writing about deities they don't believe in, from the standpoint - or the guise - of a religious person. Why spew forth love over ten pages for a goddess you don't actually think is real? Why, indeed, hold ritual several times a year for a deity you don't believe exists? Why the pretence? It seems so dishonest.
I suppose it would explain all the rampant disregard for deities, cultures and myths you get in these books. They're not real, so why does it matter? Of course there are no mistakes (as Curott cheerfully tells us). It doesn't matter if you call in the wrong god (!) because not only is he just an aspect of this other god, this other god himself is just a metaphor.
But that reduces whole traditions down to just play-acting. People writing books about playing at being Pagans. You can understand it when teenagers get into it for a month or so, hold some dramatic rituals in the part and then lose interest and refer to it as their "Wiccan stage". Because... well, OK, you can't really understand it, but at least they have the excuse of youth, and at least they tend to get over it fairly quickly. But this sort of thing is on a whole other level.
Is this because so many people have based their practice on Wicca, but have not been initiated? have no way to contact the deities of Wicca? That would make sense; they try to contact the deities and, with no luck, assume said deities are metaphors and then focus their rituals on self-help and general back-patting.
For me rituals are always an experience of closeness and worship and dedication and love and friendship with the deity for whom that ritual is held. They are, usually, moving and important experiences. I'm fine with the concept that a ritual might be more for me than the gods, because I sometimes do get that impression from the gods while performing ritual, depending on the ritual in question. But I just have a great deal of difficulty with the idea that they have so little focus on the deities. If they're not a part of your faith, then they're not a part of your faith. Be honest about it.
There's a term, play-gan, and I forget who came up with it. (Sorry.) Pagans who view the whole thing as a giant LARP. Not believing in gods but pretending to hold rituals for them because it's fun... or something. It's fun to pretend to be a witch, or a Pagan, or a mysterious person in black who holds rituals with candles and knives!
I just... I don't understand it, and I find it both frustrating and upsetting.
Especially if you don't believe in the gods and then you go and write a book about the gods and how you worship them. I mean, not-really-theistic? Fine. Hold rituals your own way in your own space? You know what, totally not my business, like, whatever. Write books about your love for the goddess you don't actually believe in? That's where I get totally confused. It feels seriously dishonest to me. It does. Sorry.