Panentheism

pregnantblue2“We are obliged to preserve the concept of the ‘other­ness’ of God from ourselves even though we cannot use it without distorting or at least wrongly stressing it. […] It is an otherness which not only does not exclude but posi­tively (just because it is what it is) includes and de­mands oneness—a oneness, indeed, which is actually more real and intimate than what we would normally de­scribe as identification.”

— R. H. J. Steuart, World Intangible (1934)

Panentheism means “All in God” (pan-en-theos). Panentheism can be distinguished from pantheism, which means “All [is] God” (pan-theos). Like pantheism, panentheism posits a God (or Goddess) who is immanent within nature. But unlike panthe­ism, panentheism simultaneously posits a God that transcends nature. To put it another way, panentheism and pantheism share the notion that the world and God are in some sense “one.” How­ever, panentheism differs from pantheism in that it pre­serves the “otherness” of God as well.

Panentheism is distinguishable both from pantheism and transcendental monotheism; it tries to preserve the insights of both philosophies. Panentheism affirms that, although the world is “in” God, God is not “in” the world. A panentheistic God is more than the world. This “more-ness,” however, does not deny the essential unity of God and the world.

Some Neo-Pagans are panentheists. In The Spiral Dance (1979), Starhawk adopts a panentheistic perspective in her descrip­tion of the relationship of the Neo-Pagan Goddess and her Consort. In the quote below, the Goddess represents the trans­cendent function of divinity, while her Consort represents the immanent function of divinity:

“The Goddess is the Encircler, the Ground of Being; the God is That-Which-Is-Brought-Forth, her mirror image, her other pole. She is the earth; He is the grain. She is the all encompassing sky; He is the sun, her fireball. She is the Wheel; He is the traveler. He is the sacrifice of life to death that life may go on. She is the Mother and De­stroyer; He is all that is born and is destroyed.”

According to Starhawk’s model of the divine Spiral Dance, the Goddess’ Consort is the mortal dancer and the Goddess is the immortal Dance.

Starhawk may have borrowed this panentheistic vision from the McFarland Dianic tradition of Witchcraft. Unlike both British Traditional Wicca, which views divinity as essentially a polarity of male and female divinities, and feminist Dianic Witchcraft, which views divinity monotheistically as a parthenogenic* fe­male, the McFarland Dianics occupied a middle ground, view­ing divinity in terms of an immortal Creatrix and her divine but mortal masculine Consort. The Goddess of the McFarland Dian­ics is changeable, but undying. She possesses three aspects—Maiden, Mother, and Crone—like the Moon, which is her sym­bol. The Moon cycles through its aspects, but remains the same. The Goddess is the dynamic unity within the world of imperma­nence. The following comes from the McFarland Dianic website:

“In the McFarland Dianic Tradition the Goddess was never born, and She never dies. She always was, is, and al­ways will be. She is the fertile Void at the Center from which the universe is born. … Her Son and Consort is the Mortal principle that is born, dies and is reborn in an ever-repeating cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The God also is of the Goddess. You could say that He is Her male aspect.”

* Parthenogenesis refers to a form of asexual reproduction without fertilization. In animals, parthenogenesis means development of an em­bryo from an unfertilized egg cell.

Updated 2019

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