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In myth, a deity is typically portrayed as a figure of supernormal power and importance with some deep connection to the natural, cultural, or moral order.
Deity has been conceived in myriad ways. Naturalistic concepts are admittedly less common than other kinds, but they have been known throughout history.
A classic depiction of the variety of views of deity in Contemporary Paganism can be found in Margarian Bridger and Stephen Hergest’s Pagan Deism: Three Views. The essay presents views according to the three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, more or less resembling hard polytheism, soft polytheism, and naturalism, respectively. Cast as the three points of a triangle, the merging of colors between them illustrates the dynamic spectrum of beliefs available in Paganism. In Bridger and Hergest’s model, Naturalistic Paganism would cluster near the yellow tip.
M. Jay Lee, in a post in the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism, provides a different breakdown of different views of deity in Paganism:
Here is how I would categorize the major positions on theism:
1) anti-theism – No gods period, symbolic or otherwise
2) symbolic theism – uses gods as symbols, metaphors, allegories for natural phenomena/forces, abstract concepts, unconscious drives etc
3) soft theism – views gods as a manifestation of a real (external) but somewhat nebulous higher power which is usually seen as leading us into some higher state of being (the particular gods/goddesses may be human-created metaphors but behind them is a real immortal power)
4) hard theism – the view that the gods (and other such beings like faeries and angels) really exist as literal, conscious, immortal super-beings.
Category 2 is the most typical mode for HP. Categories 1 and 2 are generally compatible with Religious Naturalism.
Seemingly absent from this category scheme is a view of deity as a directly-experienced mental phenomenon, similar to a dream image. The dream image is not necessarily “symbolic” of anything, but is a real, direct mental experience. In the same fashion, deities appearing in the mind’s eye would not be symbolic either, but real as such (though without implying any kind of objective reality external to the individual mind).
See also “Day/Night Language.”
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