Four Centers of Paganism
I recently came across a post on Patheos by John Beckett, talking about the Four Centers of Paganism. I really liked the model, and have been thinking about how it applies to me, or more precisely, how and where my beliefs and practice fall within the model.
Basically, the idea is that rather than an institution, Paganism is a movement, and people fall closer or further away from the center of the model. Paganism, according to Halstead, has four centers around which the individual Pagan practitioner may revolve his or her practice. The centers are:
Nature Centered Pagans find the Divine in Nature – their primary concern is the natural world and our relationship with it. You may hear terms like “Earth centered” “tree hugger” and “dirt worshipper.”
Self centered Paganism doesn’t mean it’s all about you and your ego. It means you find the Divine within yourself. It means the focus of your religious practice is to make yourself stronger, wiser, more compassionate, and more magical, so you can be of greater service to the world.
Deity centered Pagans find the Divine in the many Goddesses and Gods. Deity centered Paganism is mainly concerned with forming and maintaining relationships with the Gods, ancestors, and spirits. Much of this is done through acts of devotion: worship, offerings, sacrifices, prayers and meditation.
Community centered Pagans find the Divine within the family and the tribe – however they choose to define those groups. Ancient tribal religion was (and is, in the few places where it still exists) about maintaining harmonious relationships and preserving the way things have always been. Individuals are secondary to the family, and immortality is in the continuation of the family, not in the continuation of the individual. It usually includes some form of ancestor worship, and may include offerings to the Agathos Daimon – the “good spirit” or guardian spirit of the household. Ancestors and family spirits are generally thought to be more accessible than Goddesses and Gods – a Heathen saying goes “if you feel a tap on your shoulder, it’s probably your grandfather, not the Allfather.”
These are just the most basic ideas; I encourage you to read the article in its entirety to get a better understanding of the model, but the definitions are enough for my purposes here.
It’s interesting to me that these centers are not limited to Pagan practitioners; there are many who revere Nature, or find their concept of the Divine in serving their community. There are even elements of self in praying for blessings to be answered or to be delivered from ill health or circumstance. And many other religious traditions center on the relationship with Deity over any other model.
For my personal practice, I think I fall mostly in the Nature/Self/Community spheres. While I enjoy the ritual associated with deity-centered styles of practice, they’re not my primary focus. I have often described myself as a ‘secular pagan’; my practice is more focused on becoming a better person, in sync with the natural world, celebrating the seasons and helping my community. One feeds into the other; I cannot give to my community without learning (and sharing what I learn along the way) to become a better person. Being a better person includes helping my community and honoring the planet we take nourishment from. I tend to think of deity as archetypes or aspects of Self; guides, teachers in metaphor rather than actual beings.
I do think that all four centers can have a place in practice, and that it’s okay to either focus on one area, or a couple at a time. Regardless of where your practice falls within those four centers, there’s always room for growth.
Where does your practice fall?