Isaac Bonewits (and Seneca) on Belief in the Gods

“Since the 1960s, modern science has tended more and more toward multi-model, pluralistic theories that fit very well indeed with polytheism and traditional non-monotheistic occultism.  So it is especially sad that even people who have consciously rejected conservative religious beliefs are reluctant to let go of certain scientistic prejudices.  Scientism, also known as ‘Scientolatry,’ is the worship of the obsolete scientific paradigm of a dead, mechanistic universe.

Magic as magic, as a way of causing measurable and observable changes in the physical universe, collides head-on with scientistic dogmas about the nature of reality.  Most people simply don’t have the intellectual courage to deal with multiple levels of reality, paradoxes, or complex ambiguity.  They like things kept as simple as possible, so they wind up closing their eyes to the complicated, yet potentially liberating, aspects of their environment.

Modern religious ceremonies, both Neopagan and mainstream, are affected by this mainstream scientistic bias for similar reasons.  If you don’t believe that your deities are real people, in some sense or another, then the concept of worship becomes meaningless.  As the ancient Roman author Seneca put it, ‘The first way to worship the Gods is to believe in the Gods.'”

– Isaac Bonewits, from Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals That Work


“Those who don’t believe in the existence of anything supernatural, and who define deity solely in the monotheistic sense of that which is supremely supernatural, will often conclude that deities don’t exist.  They are in essence saying, ‘If I can’t have the monotheistic God, I won’t have any at all.’  This is ironic, considering that most atheists, agnostics, and humanists don’t consciously acknowledge that they are still letting the monotheistic theologians define their terms for them.”

– Isaac Bonewits, from Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals That Work

Leave a comment


  1. Very interesting timing ! Dver just posted this :

    What do you personally think ?

    • This post was actually inspired directly by those two excellent posts by Dver and Kauko. Personally, I’ve been extremely reluctant to comment directly on this whole debate/debacle, mostly because I find the concept of an “atheist pagan” to be about as logical as an “atheist Christian,” a “vegetarian carnivore,” or “a barefoot boy wearing shoes.” It just doesn’t make sense to me, and I really don’t understand where the atheist pagans are coming from. Since you’ve asked, I may have to write a whole post on the subject eventually. But for now, let’s just say I *wholeheartedly* agree with the above quotes by Isaac Bonewits and Seneca, and one of the best concise descriptions of my beliefs and worldview can be found in Ezra Pound’s “Religio, or the The Child’s Guide to Knowledge” (which I posted here: ). A much longer and much more detailed view of my theological beliefs can mostly be found in the works of Proclus and a few other sources like “On the Gods and the World” by Sallustius (, with the incredibly important caveat that my interpretation of “the One” is understood from the polycentric perspective found in the works of Edward P. Butler ( I’m likewise inspired and find myself in complete agreement with the views of the gods as expressed in the works of H. Jeremiah Lewis, Sarah Kate Istra Winter, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Raven Kaldera, Ian Corrigan, the aforementioned Isaac Bonewits, and the publications of groups like the ADF. To me, devotion to the gods (gods who have an objective, external existence and reality that I find to be completely self-evident) is the heart of polytheism and paganism. I’ve dedicated my life to the gods. I’m extremely proud to call myself both a pagan and a polytheist. And I can unequivocally state that the gods are the foundation, the inspiration, the guides, and the goal for absolutely everything that I do. Hope that answers your question 😉

  2. seanmcdh

     /  September 20, 2012

    …these are some of my fav quotes. Isaac Bonewits was my hero =]

    • He’s one of my heroes too! I recently joined the ADF after reading some of his books and being pleasantly surprised to learn that there was an actual pagan organization out there that reflects so many of my own beliefs and ideals.

  3. Excellent quotes!

    • I thought you might like them! As I said to Valiel in my comment above, this post was directly inspired by your and Kauko’s recent posts on Belief.

  4. I’m curious where the Seneca quote comes from? It’s so perfect for this recent debate over belief.

    • The footnote says that quote is from Seneca’s Ad Lucilium. I agree that it is perfect for this recent controversy!

  5. once again you found in words something i myself think but dont know how to explain. also i put a few of your blog posts on stumbeled upon,now im going to try pinterest 🙂

    • Thanks so much for sharing my blog posts! I’m glad the quotes resonated with you – they certainly struck me as relevant to some of the recent “discussions” (aka flame wars) in the wider pagan community regarding belief in the gods.


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