The Paradox of Orthopraxis

Modern Pagans have a long standing dislike of dogma, for very good reason. In spite of the comfort inherited beliefs might offer, ultimately they stifle personal growth and tend to linger long after the world around them has rendered them moot. Examples from history are numerous, and to cite them would be to belabor the point. Paganism is a religion about life, and dogma, in the final analysis, is a kind of death.

In place of orthodoxy, or common belief, Pagans have orthopraxis, or common practices. Doctrines are sparse, rituals are many. But there is a general skeleton and a basic trajectory that nearly all Pagan rituals share. A Pagan visiting another’s Circle will usually only need to ask which direction the Circle is cast from and which Tool is used for Fire. Beyond that, the multiplicity of Gods and Traditions tends toward an “it’s all good” approach.

For the most part, this is a good thing. But, like all good things, it has its downside. It is also possible for someone to have a good grasp of the mechanics of ritual and to subscribe to the most utterly absurd notions concerning those rituals. I do not intend to indicate any particular model or approach, but rather, a lack of any coherent example of either.

Animism, for instance, is a perfectly viable perspective. As Chaos Magicians know, when you approach the Universe from a particular perspective, it tends to oblige with examples. But one should understand Animism inside and out, not just adhere to a perspective because they “like it.” Very few things grate on my ears than people saying they “like” a particular philosophy or metaphysical system. A system is not like soda or cigarettes. Brand loyalty doesn’t enter into the picture. The question is does one grasp their chosen viewpoint to the extent that they could explain it clearly to someone who hasn’t heard of it before?

“Significance” is slippery. To a certain degree we are always a step behind the reality curve, since our minds are conditioned by past habits. Orthopraxis gives us an anchor in the phenomenal Universe while we sort out our relations with the Causal. But not being able to give real arguments for our current outdated (even by an hour) model will ensure that we never truly understand.

In a sense, this is a deeper challenge to dogma. Superficially we can all agree that holding beliefs “just because” they are part of their religious tradition is at best lazy, at worst a recipe for irrelevance. However, it is often the case that we hold core assumptions that are unexpressed and inform our choices without our knowing it.

A common thread is a good thing. But, like a dogma, the motions of ritual can become just motions. To go beyond this, we need to look at what we do, and our assumptions about it. The drama of “significance” is ever changing, and we don’t want to get stuck in the third act when the Universe is working on the climax.


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