Dr. Eric Steinhart draws on his philosophical background to create a naturalistic foundation for the Pagan Wheel of the Year. To better understand axiarchism, the philosophy on which Dr. Steinhart draws to create a Naturalistic Pagan theology, see Part 1 and Part 2 of his essay “Axiarchism and Paganism”.
Samhain marks the final harvest, the cosmic harvest, when all the complexity of our universe has been reduced to noise. All structures have been consumed by the axiarchic* fire which brought them into being. The stars have burned out; the protons have fallen apart into their quarks; the quarks have dissolved back into their quantum fields; and the fields themselves have evaporated. At Samhain, our universe lies in ashes.
At Samhain all the things in our universe have finished their prayers. All these prayers are answered by other possible universes, so that our universe surrounds itself with cosmic utopias, like a conflagration surrounds itself with sparks. These utopias represent all the remedies for the axiological failures of our universe. They depict all the ways that the defects in our universe can be repaired. For any way that any thing in our universe has ever suffered, there exists some cosmic utopia in which it has some improved counterpart which does not suffer in that way. These cosmic utopias are divine seeds, which contain the genotypes for new universes, universes in which previously unmet axiological demands are satisfied. But these seeds are sparks thrown off by the combustion of our universe. At Samhain, these hot utopian sparks glow without burning, the incendiary feathers of an old phoenix, lifted by the winds, waiting to burst into flame.
At Samhain, the veil between worlds is indeed thinnest; however, for Pagan naturalists, this is not the veil between our universe and some ghostly realm populated by immaterial spirits. Pagan naturalists reject mind-body dualism. The veil between worlds is the division between our universe and its utopias. The axiarchic principle* asserts that all axiological demands will be satisfied; all prayers of all things will be answered; every prophecy will be fulfilled; everything that ought to be will be. But it will not be in our universe, which has failed in all these ways, and which at Samhain is dead. For every way our universe ought to have been, there will be some universe which will be that way. But this requires the existence of some deeper wheel whose rotations bring universes into being.
If the axiarchic principle* is true, then the Wheel of the Year, thought of cosmologically, is cyclical algorithm which progressively generates universes. The Wheel of the Year is also an axiarchic wheel. For any universe, for every one of the utopian shadows generated by that universe, the axiarchic wheel brings that shadow into light. It actualizes that cosmic potentiality. For every way our universe can be improved, the turning of the axiarchic wheel ensures that there will be some universe which is improved in that way. Our universe will be followed by every better version of itself. Samhain, which is death, is also the promise of rebirth. As the wheel turns toward Yule, the utopian shadows surrounding our universe gather heat; they become cosmic embryos, gestating in the axiarchic womb. Every spark thrown off by the suffering in our universe lands on flammable soil; the fire-seed takes root on the heights of the sacred mountain; the new phoenix gathers strength.
By the end of Samhain, on the eve of Yule, every better offspring of our universe waits to be born; our universe itself waits to be reborn in every one of these superior versions of itself. The form of every past thing, once incarnated, is ready to be reincarnated in every one of its superior counterparts. For every way your life can be improved, there is some utopian offspring of our universe in which your life is improved in that way, by one of your future better counterparts. By the end of Samhain, each utopian version of our universe is a seed at the end of some topmost branch on the World Tree. But each seed, as the wheel turns back around, is merely the ground for the emergence of a new sprout. Each seed carries within itself the essential soil, in which the Source lies dormant as the root of all things. And as the sun rises at dawn after the longest night, the Source, which is just the axiarchic principle*, quickens with these forms as an immanent power. The meaning of the Source manifests itself more explicitly; draws its further conclusions; causes these forms to become concretely instantiated. By the eruption of this first light, this gift of actuality, they burst into flame, they become physical, so the Wheel turns round once more.
*Axiarchism is a philosophical theory which states that reality is ultimately defined by some kind of value. The demands made by value are axiological demands. An axiological demand is a proposition whose truth follows from the nature of the thing which makes it.
Eric Steinhart is a professor of philosophy at William Paterson University. He is the author of four books, including Your Digital Afterlives: Computational Theories of Life after Death. He is currently working on naturalistic foundations for Paganism, linking Paganism to traditional Western philosophy. He grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. He loves New England and the American West, and enjoys all types of hiking and biking, chess, microscopy, and photography.