Paganism & the Religio Romana
by: L. Silvanius Florus
Pagans in antiquity, just as modern Hindus and Taoists, undestood that the Divine Power is One, whether according to Stoic or Neoplatonic interpretations of that. To reduce this One to one personality, however, is thought a mistake, for what is One is above personality - thus we worship what for reasons natural or cultural seem full of divine wonder and mystery, and we recognise in them kindred (if superior) spirits, and we stand in the tradition of incomparable poets and artists who elaborated upon the primeval beginnings of their worship and philosophers who explained the spiritual and moral meanings of the ancient stories for our edification.
What our gods and goddesses are and how we should interpret them is not a matter of dogmatism for us, and we are more expected to worship and be inspired than to arteficially conform our thoughts to any authority purporting to lay down once and for all the whole truth of them.
The greatest of the Olympians reflect the greatest things of human life and Nature. Perhaps we moderns may so interpret the gifts of remembrance which they give us:
to remind us that Justice is more than a merely human invention, and that we all have duties to welcome and protect the guest and stranger in our land.
to remind us of the sanctity and blessing of marriage and the dignity of Woman.
to remind us that Wisdom is an alternative to bare knowledge and unfounded opinion alike, and that understanding carries with it the duty to fight for the Truth.
to remind us that the Arts and Beauty give a meaning and sweetness to our lives that is not to be neglected for wealth or mere practicality.
to remind us that the wilderness is to be protected as the home of the purity of spirit, and the wild things that live therein.
to remind us of the blessing that is a home, a blessing denied to too many.
to remind us that technology is divine and wonderful, capable of producing beauty, even if sometimes crippling too.
to remind us of the might of the Sea which encompasses the majority of our globe, and which needs our protection.
to remind us that all love is essentially divine and good, and that the union of male and female is not despised by the gods and goddeses themselves.
to remind us that honourable battle for the right is not to be shunned through an excessive desire for peace, but also that the task of bringing in the yearly crops is the basis for civilised human life.
to remind us that death too is part of the divine plan and rightful order of things.
to remind us that we are all wayfarers in this life, and also of the importance of communication - even to the gods.
Much could be said of the lesser gods of the lararium, of the other gods of the underworld and this world, and the gods of nature so abundant and varied that nymphs alone are divded into dryades (of trees), naiades (of springs and rivers), nereides (of the sea), oreades (of mountains), napaeae (of vallies), limoniades (of meadows), and limnatides (of marshes). And of heroes such as their archetype Hercules, whose good nature, strength, and courage won him a place on Olympus.
The point is made, though, that the diversity of divine personalities is rich in polytheism in a way that it can never be in a monotheism, nor is the polytheism really less sophisticated, as monotheists would have us believe. The gods represent (as part of their functions) Reality in all its diversity, but it is understood that all Reality in the final analysis is one Totum and one System, not ultimately divided between Spirit and Nature or God and Man.
In everyday life, however, there is diversity, and our tradition recognises that fully: when moved to wonder by the awesome lightening, we worship Iuppiter, but when by the gentle flowers, Flora. Our way provides for individual preference and choice in the deities we especially worship, and that does not imply that we must leave the tradition to have that choice, for our Via is broad in scope and abundant in content.
Our tradition is also rich in beauty: that wrought by poet and artist through a millennium and more, and that found through its connection with Nature. Beauty attracts and inspires, and that is the strength of our faith.
Our tradition is tolerant, and whether one believes the gods to be literal persons or figments of poetic myth or something in between, if one is inspired by them and worships them in his way, none will dare to excommunicate or persecute. Ours is an open tradition that admits of growth and new interpretation, and recognises too the deities of other traditions and often sees in them a reflection of our own, rather than a threat.
The Religio Romana today is not a strange revival of something proven wrong and perhaps evil, but a very natural revival in congenial times of the religious genius of mainstream Western civilisation. By returning to these religious roots and rejecting all forms of fanaticism and exclusivism, by practising again what long human experience has demonstrated to be satisfying to the human soul, we are doing something natural and positive.
In accordance with our heritage we call the Divinity by Its ancient names both male and female, and in dignified friendship with those Powers offer worship and enjoy communion with them. Thus we are strengthened and consoled, we conserve an ancient and proved tradition, and we do harm to none.
L. Silvanius Florus