“Self-fulfillment and personal understanding allow us to support ourselves and therefore others” – The First Pillar of the Global Order of Satan.
In the absence of a belief in the literal existence of anthropomorphic deities, my own Pagan path focuses largely on two things: Nature and the Self.
While I want to do more, and therefore write more, about my Nature focus moving forward, I wanted to take a moment to unpick this idea of Self as a focal point for my Paganism.
To focus on the Self is not to be selfish. It isn’t about a me-first mentality, nor is it about gratifying the whims and desires of my ego. Crowley may have coined the phrase “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” but he also followed that with “Love is the law, Love under Will.”
True Will in this case is deserving of its big capital W.
Your Will isn’t about what you fancy right now, whether you want to eat that whole pizza or have a salad. It’s about Who You Are, why you’re here and what your purpose is in the world.
Discerning that Will is, in large part, the core of a Paganism which has the Self as a focus. John Beckett, in The Path of Paganism (2017), writes:
“Self-centred 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.”
In order to do all those things, you need to find out Who You Are, and come to accept that. That is hard bloody work, and involves a lot of what’s known in the trade as Shadow Work.
The term Shadow Work comes from the ideas of psychologist Carl Jung, whose thought and work provided a huge influence to the development of some 20th century Paganisms, and can still be seen today in some initiatory Orders.
The Shadow is not bad: as Pagans we don’t tend to do the dualistic thinking of much Monotheism whereby light is equated with goodness and dark with evil (thanks Zoroaster). Shadows are as natural as the light, and need the light to exist.
The Jungian Shadow is the unconscious, and needs to be integrated into conscious awareness rather than repressed or fought against. If we try to excise the Shadow from our being, it can become a source of harm, but it is not in itself evil. In Psychology and Religion: West and East (1938), Jung wrote:
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is”.
Trauma, abuse, neglect and internalised self-hatred all make this Shadow more powerful and, if left unchecked, more dangerous.
My Paganism, in part, has always been a journey of dealing with the scars of these things, and facing up to my Shadow; not as the archetypal knight slaying his dragon, but as a host welcoming a difficult guest, showing hospitality and kindness.
Through ritual, meditation, reading myth and philosophy, connecting with nature, you can come to connect with your own human nature, and see it as it is, unfiltered by the lenses of social expectation, unfettered by the weight of years.
Don’t get me wrong, this is as I said before, hard bloody work. There’s a reason humans have always feared the shadows, within and without. They are scary. But they hold wisdom in the darkness.
One epithet for the archetypal Horned God is the Dread Lord of Shadows. He stands at the liminal spaces, the threshold between past and future, the twilight edgelands of our conscious awareness. He comes not to destroy us, but to challenge us, to initate us.
Accepting his challenge is to accept change. To accept that you may not come out the other side of this initiation as the same person you once were.
John Beckett writes:
“Start a daily spiritual practice and the parts of yourself you like to keep hidden may start to come out. Your ego may feel threatened…it may challenge what you believe, how you treat other people and how you treat yourself.”
Change is life’s only constant. To change is to live. Let nature be our teacher here: every living being is constantly growing, changing, adapting, evolving, and so are the Earth and Cosmos themselves. To remain static is death.
To practice a Self focused Paganism is to learn to ride the waves of these changes, while also navigating your way through them as a conscious creator of change, rather than be passively swept along by them. It is to look ever on, while still honouring all that came before.
“We’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve, whilst still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been, and choose who we want to be next – now’s your chance.” (Doctor Who, 2018).
If you want to be of service to the world, to help others human and non-human alike, you need to have some commitment to self-improvement, even if it isn’t the main focus of your path. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
Self work is not selfish. Self care is not selfish. In times of turmoil and rising hatred, self love is a radical act.
Living as your authentic Self, as Who You Are, is an act of lived resistance.
Beckett, J. (2017). The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice. Woodbury MN, Llewellyn.
Chibnall, C. (2018). “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, Doctor Who [BBC Television broadcast]
Global Order of Satan. “Pillars”. Retrieved 09/03/2019 from https://satanictempleinternational.org/#Pillars.
Jung, C. (1938). Psychology and religion: West and East. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.