Modern Paganism developed in a world that already had a scientific understanding if the universe, but that’s not true of some versions of traditional religions. To some, evolution, the Big Bang, and other proven facets of the origins of life represent a difficult challenge to their faiths. This week, on his TV show Cosmos, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson clearly and convincingly presented the science behind Darwin’s theory of evolution and the concept of natural selection. Modern science has enough evidence to put the theory to rest emphatically. Scientists, ever skeptical, lost their skepticism on this one a long time ago. Tyson states it quite clearly in a way that sounds pretty familiar to modern Pagans:
“Some claim that evolution is just a theory, as if it were merely an opinion. The theory of evolution — like the theory of gravity — is a scientific fact. Evolution really happened. Accepting our kinship with all life on Earth is not only solid science. In my view, it’s also a soaring spiritual experience.”
Couple that with this week’s announcement that the “smoking gun” of the Big Bang has been found, and this is a week that has really challenged those who still hold onto a literal Creationist viewpoint. Some are even calling for Tyson to give equal time to the Creationist viewpoint. Science and traditional religion have been known to be at odds, but what about science and the pagan religions? To get a variety of perspectives on where pagan spirituality intersects with scientific research on cosmology, I asked some modern pagans about how their spirituality connects with scientific understandings of the origin of life. Their answers are beautiful and inspiring:
“In the past years one of my definitions of magic is “science we don’t understand yet,” which I later learned is something Arthur C. Clarke said. For me, magic and spirituality and mysticism are actually fairly bound up in science. Whenever I watch the movie “What the Bleep,” or I read about the similarities in the mathematical construct of spirals in nature—whether a nautilus shell or one of the galaxies—that’s science, and it’s magic, and it’s the whisper of the divine.
I’ve heard a lot of Pagans talk about all the knowledge from the ancient Pagan traditions that was lost when Pagans were killed and converted, but here’s the thing. Most of what our ancient ancestors called magic is stuff that we can do today with a cell phone. We can tell the directions, when the solstices and eclipses are, what the weather will be like. All of that is basically math, it’s just that the ancient shamans, witches, druids, and wise people had access to that knowledge. That knowledge was magic.
I have always been fascinated with the sky, the stars. Understanding how the universe works and that there’s predictable math and physics behind it doesn’t really take away the magic for me. A lot of what I do when I facilitate a ritual is just science, it’s just psychology. And yet, there’s that moment when we open up and connect to that something larger…to the divine, if you want to call it that. My own direct experiences with the divine run along the lines of a great ocean, and that we are all a part of that ocean. I can write about it, but feeling that through my entire body is another thing entirely. And I feel some of that sensation when I look at pictures of a supernova, of a galaxy, when I read about the new discoveries being made.
I know what causes a falling star. I know it’s a meteorite. I know what makes the full moon shine. And yet, standing out there at night, staring up as a star shoots across the sky, or as the moon hangs low and full, it’s still magical. It still sends a shiver across my skin.”
“Science and spirituality both arise when human consciousness begins asking Why. As a Dharma student, I could point you to thousands of verses that relate to this subject. They boil down to a core that basically states, “Why go looking for Why? Causation is illusion, all is illusion, the person wondering this is illusory, the relevance of this question is relative only to one’s willing participation in the illusion. Knowing this, what is there here other than illusion?”
That said, whether I am imaginary or not, I am aware of being a Pagan, actively involved in the magical co-creation of this phenomenal reality we are living, and I enjoy learning about all parts of it. That means I “follow” both science and spirituality.
For me, science and spirituality are equally-relevant systems of study and practice that yield engaging, questionable experiences and conclusions for the sake of challenging and assuaging the individual and collective ego and its endless Why-ing. It all appears to me to be a game we play for comfort, in light of how much suffering we seem to experience within the apparent reality of a tangible world we have created within a vast and lonely Void where all that seems knowable is truly not. The mind really struggles with all of that, so of course we create comforting illusions. Why wouldn’t we? Science is one. Spirituality is one. There are others.
To me, the intersection of Science and Spirit is the Black Madonna, the Mother of Darkness, the Black Hole, the galactic center, the Eye of Kali. She yields forth and receives all. She is All, and Nothingness. She is where I rest when my ego mind stops asking why, why, why.”
– Yeshe Rabbit, founder and presiding high priestess of Come As You Are Coven
“I have never felt a conflict between my beliefs and the findings of science as both have a similar ancestor, that being ancient occultism. As a Wiccan, my personal understandings are rooted in nature and the natural world- instead of something more etheric, mysterious, transcendent, or untouchable. I feel science will never be able to challenge my religious understandings, but instead I find it only elegantly elaborates upon them. Since science has always been in pursuit to further its understanding of the natural world and the functions of the cosmos, it will by default, through its pursuit, continue to enhance, enrich, and in some ways confirm my own religious and spiritual certainty with its findings. So, when science talks about evolution- I say that we are all one; and when it talks about the Big Bang- I say, So Mote it Be!”
– Chris Orapello, Host of Down at the Crossroads Podcast and author of A Witch’s Journey
“As a pagan I believe the universe itself, which to me is everything from periodic elements being produced in the belly of a star, to evolution, to threat endless oceans of dark matter pulling us ever into the void, to be the very stuff Goddess is made of. In my tradition we view the Goddess as the literal universe and believe that everything within It shares an animistic oneness. We believe that we are pieces of God Herself experiencing and learning as part her own self exploration and evolution. In this we see Science as a tool that better helps us to understand our lives as part of this great evolution and therefore see the search for knowledge based in scientific understanding and scientific principles to be a holy and sacred endeavor for which all beings can benefit.
As the scientific community continues to make discoveries regarding the origin of life and the universe, I believe we are given the incredible opportunity to collectively question our belief in the nature of God without necessarily questioning it’s existence. I believe that as mankind explores the universe through science we are ultimately being informed of our own divine nature. Science and religion don’t need to be at odds but should both be seen with equal mystery anAs the scientific community continues to make discoveries regarding the origin of life and the universe, I believe we are given the incredible opportunity to collectively question our belief in the nature of God without necessarily questioning it’s existence. I believe that as mankind explores the universe through science we are ultimately being informed of our own divine nature. Science and religion don’t need to be at odds but should both be seen with equal mystery and wonder.”
– Devin Hunter, Creator of Modern Witch Podcast, Online, and Magazine, Head Priest and founder of The Sacred Fires Tradition of Witchcraft.
“I don’t have any challenges with Science. I believe and understand the theories surrounding The Big Bang and evolution. My Gods don’t mind that I believe in Science because they are the ones that did the science in the first place. Something sentient and bigger than us had to create this multiverse. It’s just too beautiful to not have been divine inspiration. My Gods can do ALL the Science!”
– Sparrow, co-host of The Wigglian Way Pagan Podcast
There is a clear intersection between modern Paganism and modern science. Perhaps that is an advantage of being part of a non-dogmatic religion. There is no need to stick rigidly to a creed and tries to fit square pegs into round holes. When we accept ourselves as part of a growing, evolving, multi-leveled understanding of the natural world, we can expand our understanding of the divine as our knowledge about science grows.
The two worlds meet at the crossroads of Wonder and Exploration. It takes a spirit of Wonder to explore the mysteries of the universe, and both of us travel those roads in similar, but different vehicles.