This page, which hosts the results of an ongoing project, will serve to instruct and explore pagan theology. The overall goal of Europagan is to provide information and guidance on historically rooted paganism – in opposition to the plethora of ahistorical “paganisms” which saturate modernity – while at the same time seeking to responsibly bring paganism into contemporary life. That is, we have no desire to be mere historical reenactors any more than we wish to be rootless post-modernists. With those things in mind, we will here present historical theology but with the idea of applying it to our modern lives and with the hope of inspiring further theological work.
Historically, our richest source of theology (by far) is the Platonic tradition. Though Platonism was later commandeered, happily or not, by the Abrahamic faiths, it is a thoroughly pagan system which has its origins in the thought of Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who was a pious practitioner of Greek polytheism. Plato, who like all of his contemporaries was steeped in the poetry of Homer and the age-old beliefs of his people, sought to extract and rationalize the deeper meanings of the traditions of his time. We will begin here with excerpts from Plato’s influential book Timaeus.
In these excerpts, Plato teaches the following key points:
- Our universe was created by a god (sometimes identified as Zeus), and this god is perfectly good.
- The universe is not only beautiful and good, but it is as beautiful and good as it possibly could be.
- The god in his goodness created Order from Chaos.
- The universe itself is alive and possesses a soul.
- The universe is ruled over and maintained by many good gods.
- The universe is a shrine to the gods.
- The gods were created through the overflowing goodness of the chief god, and humans and other creatures were similarly created through the overflowing goodness of these gods.
- There is a piece of divinity within us, as we were created by divinity, and when we die, we will return to divinity if we lived justly and piously.
From Plato’s Timaeus, 28a – 29a:
“What is that which always is and has no becoming, and what is that which becomes but never is? The former is grasped by understanding, which involves a reasoned account. It is unchanging. The latter is grasped by opinion, which involves unreasoning sense perception. It comes to be and passes away, but never really is. Now everything that comes to be must of necessity come to be by the agency of some cause, for it is impossible for anything to come to be without a cause. So whenever the craftsman looks at what is always changeless and, using a thing of that kind as his model, reproduces its form and character, then, of necessity, all that he so completes is beautiful. But were he to look at a thing that has come to be and use as his model something that has been begotten, his work will lack beauty.
Now as to the whole universe or world order – let’s just call it by whatever name is most acceptable in a given context – there is a question we need to consider first. This is the sort of question one should begin with in inquiring into any subject. Has it always existed? Was there no origin from which it came to be? Or did it come to be and take its start from some origin? It has come to be. For it is both visible and tangible and it has body – and all things of that kind are perceptible. And, as we have shown, perceptible things are grasped by opinion, which involves sense perception. As such, they are things that come to be, things that are begotten. Further, we maintain that, necessarily, that which comes to be must come to be by the agency of some cause. Now to find the maker and father of this universe is hard enough, and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible. And so we must go back and raise this question about the universe: Which of the two models did the maker use when he fashioned it? Was it the one that does not change and stays the same, or the one that has come to be? Well, if this world of ours is beautiful and its craftsman good, then clearly he looked at the eternal model. But if what it’s blasphemous to even say is the case, then he looked at one that has come to be. Now surely it’s clear to all that it was the eternal model he looked at, for, of all the things that have come to be, our universe is the most beautiful, and of causes the craftsman is the most excellent. This, then, is how it has come to be: it is a work of craft, modeled after that which is changeless and is grasped by a rational account, that is, by wisdom. Since these things are so, it follows by unquestionable necessity that this world is an image of something.”
29e – 30c:
“Now why did he who framed this whole universe of becoming frame it? Let us state the reason why: He was good, and one who is good can never become jealous of anything. And so, being free of jealousy, he wanted everything to become as much like himself as was possible. In fact, men of wisdom will tell you (and you couldn’t do better than to accept their claim) that this, more than anything else, was the most preeminent reason for the origin of the world’s coming to be. The god wanted everything to be good and nothing to be bad so far as that was possible, and so he took over all that was visible – not at rest but in discordant and disorderly motion – and brought it from a state of disorder to one of order, because he believed that order was in every way better than disorder. Now it wasn’t permitted (nor is it now) that one who is supremely good should do anything but what is best. Accordingly, the god reasoned and concluded that in the realm of things naturally visible no unintelligent thing could as a whole be better than anything which does possess intelligence as a whole, and he further concluded that it is impossible for anything to come to possess intelligence apart from soul. Guided by this reasoning, he put intelligence in soul, and soul in body, and so he constructed the universe. He wanted to produce a piece of work that would be as excellent and supreme as its nature would allow. This, then, in keeping with our likely account, is how we must say divine providence brought our world into being as truly living thing, endowed with soul and intelligence.”
“Now when the Father who had begotten the universe observed it set in motion and alive, a thing that had come to be as a shrine for the everlasting gods, he was well pleased…”
40e – 41d:
“Earth and Heaven gave birth to Ocean and Tethys, who in turn gave birth to Phorcys, Cronus and Rhea and all the gods in that generation. Cronus and Rhea gave birth to Zeus and Hera, as well as all those siblings who care called by names we know. These in turn gave birth to yet another generation. In any case, when all the gods had come to be, both the ones who make their rounds conspicuously and the ones who present themselves only to the extent that they are willing, the begetter of this universe spoke to them. This is what he said:
‘O gods, works divine whose maker and father I am, whatever has come to be by my hands cannot be undone but by my consent. Now while it is true that anything that is bound is liable to being undone, still, only one who is evil would consent to the undoing of what has been well fitted together and is in fine condition. This is the reason why you, as creatures that have come to be, are neither completely immortal nor exempt from being undone. Still, you will not be undone nor will death be your portion, since you have received the guarantee of my will – a greater, more sovereign bond than those with which you were bound when you came to be. Learn now, therefore, what I declare to you. There remain still three kinds of mortal beings that have not yet been begotten: and as long as they have not come to be, the universe will be incomplete, for it will still lack within it all the kinds of living things it must have if it is to be sufficiently complete. But if these creatures came to be and came to share in life by my hand, they would rival the gods. It is you, then, who must turn yourselves to the task of fashioning these living things, as your nature allows. This will assure their mortality, and this whole universe will really be a completed whole. Imitate the power I used in causing you to be. And to the extent that it is fitting for them to possess something that shared our name of ‘immortal’, something described as divine and ruling with those of them who always consent to follow after justice and after you, I shall begin by sowing that seed, and then hand it over to you. The rest of the task is yours. Weave what is mortal to what is immortal, fashion and beget living things. Give them food, cause them to grow, and when they perish, receive them back again.'”