Pagan Theology 1

Pagan Theology 1 is a survey of concepts and issues in theology, including both western philosophical concepts and key themes in existing world polytheisms. This course begins by teaching the student about the common terms used in the theological work of most religions, and moves on to ask students to think about how the concepts represented by those terms can be applied to Our Druidry.

1) Define the following terms in your own words, with support and examples from one of the resources above: Ontology, Cosmogony, Cosmology, Soteriology, Teleology, Theodicy, Apologetics, Sacrament. (Minimum 100 words per definition)


Merriam Webster Online defines ontology as “a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being.” Greer expands on this definition by saying“A god doesn’t simply happen to exist, but logically has to exist, and cannot not exist” (Greer 41).  Ontology explores how things can exist and be, and what kind of things quantify the fact that they do exist.  When talking about ontology in a conversation about religion, we are generally talking about deities and whether or not they exist.  There is also a discussion about whether or not things exist solely in our minds or imaginations, or whether they have form and exist in reality.  Additionally, in ontological discussions there is also a component concerning how we as humans relate to the divine, how the divine relates to us, and why we should or should not encourage that relationship.


Merriam Webster Online defines cosmogony as “a theory of the origin of the universe.” Cosmogony explains how the universe came into being.  There are many myths across the various cultures that have their own tales of how the world sprang into being. For example, there is the Indo-European myth across various cultures that describes the sacrifice of a great being in order to make the world.  This is seen in the turning to stone of Atlas in Greek mythology, as well the dismemberment of Ymir in Norse mythology and Purusha in Vedic mythology.  Their body parts become the various parts of the world, such as the sky, the trees, the cliffs, the oceans, etc.


Merriam Webster Online defines cosmology in two ways: “a : a branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of the universe, [and] b : a theory or doctrine describing the natural order of the universe.”  Cosmology discusses the order of the universe, and how the universe itself fits together like a puzzle, based on a series of contingencies.  These contingencies all lead back to a single starting point, since everything had to stat somewhere.  When discussing religion this means that some being or thing had to kick on the domino effect of existence.  The cosmological argument in theology states that “The existence of a god is the only explanation for the fact that the universe exists at all.”(Greer 44)


Merriam Webster Online defines soteriology as “theology dealing with salvation especially as effected by Jesus Christ.” In neo-pagan religions, the idea of soteriology is boiled down to the question of what happens to the soul after death.  This can mean where the soul goes, what it does, and whether or not it comes back to exist in another body.  Within Christian religion there is the question about what happens to those who were born in the time before Jesus, the savior, existed, and how that effects the validity of the religion. Within Greek religion, during the Orphic timeframe, it effected those who knew the proper words to say to the guardians of the afterlife after they died and approached the Well of Memory.  If the person was able to convince them that they were a child of Earth and Starry Sky, then their soul would remain intact with their memories and be able to move on to meet with Persephone (Graf 116).


Merriam Webster Online defines teleology as “the study of evidences of design in nature.”  This is what is commonly called the theory of Intelligent Design, especially when discussing the ways in which science and religion are allowed to exist in a public school classroom.  At its core, a teleological argument explains how “the universe has been shaped to show a particular purpose for each thing, … there is an order, pattern, and reliability of the things within the universe that don’t happen by accident.  Therefore, some intelligence must have shaped the universe in an orderly way and for a specific purpose.” (Greer 47)


Merriam Webster Online defines theodicy as a “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.”  Theodicy is about trying to explain the contradiction between a monotheistic god’s omniscience and his omnibenevolence. Basically if god knows all, then he knows that there is suffering in the world, and if he cares about all, then he would surely prevent all the needless suffering in the world.  The fact that he doesn’t prevent the evil and suffering in the world from happening would seem to prove that he is not omniscience and/or omnibenevolent.  Theodicy attempts to refute this argument (Greer 55-56).


Merriam Webster Online defines apologetics as “a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity.”  While in a pagan context we obviously aren’t discussing the authority of Christianity, we are discussing our own faith.  Apologetics is a discussion of a religion where one is providing arguments defending that faith, while also refuting arguments brought against that faith.  This is something that we must be able to do in the context of interfaith discussions with mainstream religions.  While we aren’t trying to convert people to our way of thinking, believing, or practicing, we do need to be able to have the discussions around these topics.


Merriam Webster Online defines sacrament as “a Christian rite (such as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.”  Etymology Online defines sacrament as an“outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace,” coming from the word sacred,’ from Latin ‘sacrare,’meaning “to make sacred, consecrate; hold sacred; immortalize; set apart, dedicate” (“Sacrament”).  Thus, a sacrament is a holy rite or a holy thing that has been made sacred through ritual work, allowing the person who is taking the sacrament to bring that holiness into their own being.  This holiness is then a part of them, and they will have been marked as one who, through the magic of contagion, has also become holy.


2) Is it appropriate to discuss “theology” from a Neopagan point of view? Does the term apply to the work we do? If it does not apply, do you feel there is a better term? (Minimum 100 words)

I think it is appropriate to discuss theology from a Neopagan point of view.  Theology comes from the word “theoi”, which is what the gods in Greek are called.  As such, I see no reason not to discuss the gods, our religious practice, experiences, and beliefs using the term “theology.”  I think it does apply to the work we do.  Theology refers to the gods.  We have those and as such can discuss them using a term that references them.  Paper suggests that “thea/theology” would be more appropriate, but I disagree as that is too duotheistic for my tastes, and gender is not binary (Paper 16).  By discussing theology we are able to find the commonalities of belief between hearth cultures.  Perhaps more importantly, with a background in theology we are better able to discuss theological concepts in an interfaith group. This goes a long way towards us being on even footing with more mainstream religions.


3) Summarize the arguments of two ancient defenders of paganism or pagan philosophers (not mythographers) regarding the following aspects of ancient religion: (Minimum 100 words per defender/philosopher, per question)

Why do statues of deities not constitute idolatry?

Celsus believes that statues of deities don’t constitute idolatry because they are votive offerings to the deity in question.  If someone believes that the statue is literally the deity in question, then they are like a very young child, and hove no understanding of what is actually going on.  He does admit that it is stupid to pray to statues if one doesn’t know the gods, but as he is one who does know the gods, then it makes sense to offer up these images as gifts to the gods, and use them to show one’s devotion to the deity.  Celsus also points out that Christians are essentially worshiping a corpse when they worship Jesus, so they have no room to talk about him worshipping a statue (Cook 91-93).

Porphyry also basically points out that due to the fact that Christians and Jew also worship in temples, they don’t have room to talk about the fact that pagans do the same.  He continues to explain that Christians respect the edifices of their buildings, just as pagan respect the images of their gods.  Porphyry is like the Hellene in the Apocriticus, who points out that the difference between the god and the statue is clear.  Those who make statues do not think the god is within the statue, nor do they think the power of the god is diminished if the statue is harmed in some way.  The images are “for the sake of remembrance, in order that those who approach there might come to the knowledge of the god when they go.”  He goes on to explain that just because you make a image of a friend does not mean that that image suddenly becomes your friend.  They are clearly different things, though the image does offer remembrance of that person (Cook 235-237).

Why are deities limited, and not capable of all things?

Porphyry argues that there is no way God could do everything. With the assertion that “if all things are possible to god [then] all things are possible to the believer” Porphyry suggests that if a believer wanted to move mountains, then God would able to make that happen.  However, since God cannot make that happen, then God must not be capable of all things.  Porphyry’s method is to attempt to create a reducio ad absurdum argument against the assertion.  The counterargument appears to be “what suits God is possible for God” and that he cannot be what he is not.  This just goes to reinforce the notion that deities are limited. They cannot do or be all, otherwise all would be able to be done (Cook 143-145).

Celsus also touches on the argument that Christians bring forth stating that ”God will be able to do all things.”  For him, he is addressing the fact that God only seems interested in sinners but not in the righteous.  When confronted that everyone sins his response is “well, why not just call to everyone then.”  If God was interested in having the holy and righteous in his kingdom, then he would ensure that all who entered his kingdom were such (Cook 86-87).  Additionally, Celsus considers the approach that God is “the king of all,” which means that there are other deities beneath him, and why would there be other deities beneath him if he could be and do all.  There are things Celsus points out that God cannot do: he cannot create evil, he cannot apologize.  God does not resemble any form, and as such cannot do the things that one with a form in this reality can do.  Because there is evil in the world, God must be limited in his power (Cook 100-101)

How did the world come into being?

Celsus finds the use of the Old Testament, which contains the Christian creation myth, to be nothing more than “stupid myths,” and does not believe it’s usefulness in supporting the faith of Christians.  His first comment is that the Hebrew Scriptures shouldn’t be subject to advanced interpretation and aren’t worthy of being considered an allegory “because of their stupidly mythical nature.”  Frankly, this is a rather weak argument when discussing interfaith matters, because you can’t just say “that’s stupid, I think you’re wrong” and have it be considered to be a valid argument.  He goes on to say in a second argument that that even if the Old Testament “was a worthy text, it provides no grounds for believing that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies,” meaning that he doesn’t believe Christians can support their cosmogony with beliefs from the Old Testament because their savior wasn’t present at the time (Cook 70-72).

While Celsus is more direct in his accusation that the Old Testament is simply a collection of stupid myths, Porphyry does address that the Old Testament is a text that is not worthy of a allegorical interpretation.  But evenmore than that argument, his main critique of the Old Testament is that it does not carry a chronologically sound progression of events.  “He denied the extreme antiquity of the Moses story, the traditional dating of the law, and the ascription of the Book of Daniel to the period before the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C.E.” (Khalaf) This lack of logical, chronological progression is explained in part by Paper, who points out that “Creation myths are found only where they are meaningful.” Because we have a sense of time, the Hebrew Bible was forced to choose between two creation myths in the editing process.  They have the “in the beginning” myth, but also the myth involving the flood and Noah, both in Genesis (Paper 99).  Additionally, Porphyry also takes issue with the fact that those who came before Jesus couldn’t be saved.  Why would the world have been created without the savior in it, thus damning countless numbers of people?

How are miracles and/or prophecy performed by holy persons or priests?

When looking at the miracles of Jesus, Celsus point out that he looks like the other magicians in the ancient world.  He mentions that Jesus was a adept of Egyptian magic, and able to perform the miracles in much the same what that other magicians were.  He basically says, since other people can also do these things, how are we to consider Jesus the one and only son of God and not all the others as well.  Celsus says the argument that Jesus is the son of God because he could perform these miracles is a foolish argument, because then “any magician on the street could claim to be the son of God given what he considers to be the Christians’ miserable argument” (Cook 36-37).

When Porphyry discusses the workings of miracles, he mentions that demons, and in his case he is probably referencing daimons (the minor spirits that aid those who call on them), have the ability to work wonders.  It makes it interesting because Jerome, the Christian arguing against him, probably thinks he is calling on what Christians consider demons, as evil being.  In any case, Porphyry does believe in miracles and that they worked, but that they are the work done with assistance of spirits.  This means that any magician who could call on the spirits would be able to achieve those miracles and wonders, and Jesus is nothing special (Cook 138).


4) Provide an Indo-European cosmogony (from lore or reliably reconstructed from lore by scholarly sources). Explain how this cosmogony shaped mythology and thought that derives from it by providing examples from existing sources, as well as how it conflicts with any other known cosmogony from this culture. (Minimum 500 words)

The Greek cosmogony myth is tied very tightly to the Greek theogony myth.  The creation of the world is described in Hesiod’sTheogony.  While this is a description of how the gods were born, the beginning of the poem describes the protogenoi (primordial gods) that make up the world.  There is a fine line between what constitutes a deity and what constitutes part of the cosmos.  Theogonybegins by describing how first came Chaos and Gaia.  There is no elaboration on how they came to be, just that they sprung into existence.  Out of Chaos came Darkness (Erebos) and Night (Nyx).  From those two came Brightness (Ether) and Day.  Darkness and Brightness were considered to be the method that brought about Day and Night, rather than the Sun.  These two protogenoi were seen as mists that filled the sphere of the world  Brightness filled the dome of the sky, and darkness filled the area under the earth down to Tartarus.  Following the birth of these four protogenoi, the Earth (Gaia) then gave birth to the Sky (Ouranos).  Gaia then birthed all the aspects of the Earth, such as mountains and forests, and the sea (Pontos).  Then Earth and Sky together gave birth to the Ocean (Okeanos).  Following these aspects of the cosmos the gods were born (HesiodTheogony line 116-133). This myth shapes the mythology of the Greek culture in large part by describing how the various gods were born.  It sets up the war between the gods, which in turn explains why the gods worshipped at the time were the primary gods of household and city.

There is a second myth in Book 4 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that matches the creation myths from others cultures more closely as creation through sacrifice.  In a battle with Perseus, Atlas begins to overwhelm Perseus in feats of strength.  Perseus then turns the head of Medusa upon Atlas, who is turned to stone.  “Atlas, so huge, became a mountain; beard and hair were changed to forests, shoulders were cliffs, hands ridges; where his head had lately been, the soaring summit rose; his bones were turned to stone. Then each part grew beyond all measure (so the gods ordained) and on his shoulders rested the whole vault of heaven with all the innumerable stars” (Atsma “Atlas”).  This is how Atlas is often described as Earth-Shod and Starry-Crowned.  It is interesting that he has this title since many of the Orphic Fragments refer to the Gods as being born of Earth and Starry Sky, and encourage the initiate after death to approach Persephone and declare that they themselves are a child of earth and starry sky, their race heavenly (Graf 116).

These two myths conflict in that at the time of the battle with Atlas, the world was already in existence.  While the defeat of Atlas closely correlates to other creation myths, such as the dismemberment of Ymir in Norse mythology or Purusha in Vedic mythology, with his various body parts becoming parts of the earth, it cannot quite be considered a cosmogony myth.  It does however describe the creation of that single mountain, as well as explain how the Earth and Sky are held asunder.


5) Describe the relationship of humans to each of the Three Kindreds, and to the Outdwellers, providing examples from lore. (Minimum 150 words per Kindred)

Shining Ones

When considering how humans relate to the gods, we can look to the mythology of the culture for examples.  In Greek mythology the gods often made excursions into the world of humans.  This can be seen in the exploits of Zeus, where he would take a different form and seduce a human female, thus producing more gods or demigods.  One of the more well known of these myths involves Zeus taking the form of a bull and capturing Europa, their coupling causing her to give birth to three sons: Minos, Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys (Atsma “Zeus Loves”). There are also stories the show the reciprocity between the gods and humans.  This can be seen in the story where Zeus and Hermes go journeying across the land and eventually come upon a hospitable couple called Baucus and Philemon.  Because the gods received hospitality at the hut of the couple, they bestowed favor upon them by turning their hut into a temple, and upon death, turning the couple into intertwining trees that they might live together forever (Atsma “Hermes Favor”).  These two types of human interactions with the gods can be roughly divided into involuntary and voluntary interactions, with examples of Zeus’ conquests falling in the involuntary category most of the time, and examples of worship, honor, sacrifice, and devotion to the various gods falling into the voluntary category.

Nature Spirits

When considering how humans relate to the nature spirits, we can look to the practices and mythology of the ancient Greeks.  In theIliad when Zeus summons the gods, all of the minor spirits including nymphs and rivers come along.  “The idea that rivers are gods and springs are divine nymphs is deeply rooted … in belief and ritual” (Burkert 174).  There is a river or spring near each city, and the city includes that water source in their worship practices.  There are many examples of the spirits of nature being offered to and worshiped in ancient time.  When they came of age, children would dedicate their hair to the local river.  Animals are slaughtered into those water sources.  There are also examples of the ancient Greeks praying to the Winds.  A specific wind is called forth to aid a harvest or protect the city from invaders (Burkert 174-176).


When considering how humans relate to the Ancestors, we again can look to the practices of the ancient Greeks.  For a bit of background, the cult of the dead assumes that the spirits of those passed are active beneath the ground where they were buried.  As such, the dead are offered libations of blood and wine to drink, and they are invited to come to the sacrificial feasts that are held.  There are also tales of the restless and angry dead menacing those who had the misfortune to be in the area.  Humans appease the dead by making regular offerings to them in order to keep them in good spirits (Burkert 194-195). The are also instances of humans in myth contacting the dead as oracles and givers of wisdom.  This is seen in the Odyssey when Odysseus travels the land of the dead and meets with Tiresias, who gives him knowledge of his travels and survival after drinking the sacrificial blood (Homer).


When considering how humans relate to the Outdwellers, it seems to do mostly with our specific feelings towards each particular Outdweller.  We need to consider where humans draw the line at when we may honor an Outdweller, and when it becomes something we just don’t do.  For instance, in Celtic mythology, Lugh is part Formorian, and yet we still give him honor and praise, but Balor is one that we never would.  Outdwellers are also often tricksters whose antics have won some knowledge or skill that benefits mankind.  For instance, Prometheus is a trickster god, a titan, who stole fire in order to give it to mankind (Atsma “Prometheus”).  Yet we can honor him for this gift he bestowed upon us.  In the context of a ritual honoring Prometheus, it may even be Zeus who is the Outdweller, since he is the one who would be at cross-purposes with the rite.  It seems that humans choose who is an Outdweller based on the context and their own beliefs and needs, but that there is nothing that always must be an Outdweller, it is merely how we are interacting with them in a certain situation.  At that point, one would determine which of the other Three Kindred categories they seem to relate to most closely and work with them from that angle.


6) By what mechanism does an ADF Priest call upon the divine in ritual? Is this different than the mechanism used by any other ADF Member (i.e. non-priests) or other Pagans at large? Provide at least two examples from the lore or philosophy that support the mechanism described, as well as any differences in the way clergy and lay members deal with the divine. (Minimum 400 words)

An ADF Priest can call upon the divine in ritual both through prayer and through sacrifice.  This is the same as any other ADF Member or any other pagan.  There are no restrictions on who may call on what entities, rather there is simply a need to make the call through prayer and/or sacrifice.  This is one of the defining features of the modern neo-pagan movement: that any individual can act as their own priest, and that there is no need for a priest within their worship of the deities or practice of ritual.  Within ancient times, it was also the case that the folk did not need a priest to participate in their household rituals.  These were conducted by the head of the household and were separate from the community rites that were held with the public (Labrys 23-24) (Winter 20-21).

That being said, in ADF, a Priest has taken an oath to serve the gods, the folk, and the land, and as such is obligated to call upon the divine through prayer and sacrifice.  While the laity are able to call as they feel the need, and build relationship in the way that best suits them and their commitment, the ADF Priest, like the historical priest, is expected to keep the holy days regardless of whether or not they are celebrating with a groupof people or on their own.  It is the obligation of the priest to be sure that sacrifices are made in the proper way at the proper time (“The Role of the Priest in ADF”).

Prayer can be done in many ways from speaking, to gesturing, to music and dance, etc.  Speaking prayers tends to be the most common and well-known method of prayer, and mechanism for calling upon the divine (Serith 17-28).  In Vedic religion one of the ancient sources of prayer is the Rig Veda, which is a collection of prayers to various deities and spirits. In Greek religion one can look to the Homeric or Orphic Hymns for prayers to various deities and spirits.

Sacrifice is another way that one may call upon the divine.  The idea with a sacrifice is that you give something and hope to receive something in return.  Sacrifice is often done in conjunction with prayer.  Within the Orphic Hymns there are notes on what will make a good sacrifice for each of the spirits, such as frankincense, milk, or grain (Athanassakis).  These sacrifices are meant to be done in conjunction with the spoken hymn.  There are, of course, other types of sacrifices that are made such as first fruit offerings, votive offerings, and libations.  Again, these can be made by anyone, however in public, citywide rituals they are often made by the presiding priest (Burkert 66-73).


7) Explain whether the sacrifice/blessing relationship is one of obligation or one of volunteerism: in other words, does the mechanism of sacrifice and blessing have a required or optional outcome for both parties involved? What are the implications of your position on this topic on our ritual work? (Minimum 300 words)

When discussing the work of priests, sacrifice is an obligation that the ADF priest has undertaken as part of their oath of service.  Sacrifices must be made at the proper time and in the proper way ignorer to maintain the order of the cosmos.  This is a reflection of the original sacrifice of the great being from whom the world was fashioned, thus ordering the cosmos the first time.  The sacrifice keeps the cosmos in order ”where each sacrifice would be distributed to the cosmos. Without the matter derived from these offerings, the cosmos and the material world would become exhausted and depleted” (Thomas).

Another part of what I believe the purpose of a priest being obligated to make sacrifice is that they can maintain the *ghosti relationship so that when someone comes to them with a need, the relationship has been established and the priest can help that person navigate their own relationship with the divine.  Because part of the job of a priest is to serve the folk, this is one way that can be done.  It is not uncommon for the laity to come to a priest when they are either trying to meet a new deity, or are working out a budding relationship with a new deity.  Here, the priest can assist the folk by drawing on their longstanding relationship with the divine.  Sacrifice becomes a way that a priest can have the ability to be a letter of reference for another person when they are making introductions.

As far as the laity is concerned, I think making sacrifices is optional, though one who maintains a relationship with more sacrifices in it, will receive more in return.  There is no required outcome from sacrifice.  If there were, we would not ask when taking an omen in ritual if our offerings have been accepted, and yet many groves, including my own, make this question a regular part of our ritual practice.  Though there is no required outcome from sacrifice, overtime a sacrifice is made it helps to build a reciprocal relationship. This reciprocal relationship means that, like two friends who forget who last paid for dinner when they went out for their weekly meal together, things will work out to more or less even over an extended period of time.


8) Explain how natural disasters (such as earthquakes, disease, and eruptions) are viewed in polytheistic cultures, including their causes. (Minimum 300 words)

Natural disasters in the ancient polytheistic world were events that were outside the knowledge base of the people of that time.  As such, they tried to explain these events through the lens that they understood: the stories of the gods of their time.  Different deities were assigned dominion over all sorts of different things.  Zeus was a god of the weather and controlled the thunderstorms.  Apollo was a god of medicine, and as such could both bring plague and heal it.  Poseidon was the god of the sea, as well as the earth shaker.  He brought good sailing weather to those who honored him and bad sailing weather to those who did not.  He was also believed to be at fault when earthquakes occurred.  Demeter was an agricultural goddess whose favor would bring about a bountiful harvest, but who also brought about the death of all the plants when she mourned her daughter, Persephone.  In response to that Persephone was seen as a goddess who brought about the change in the seasons.

Because the gods are not omnibenevolent, it makes sense for the people of that time, lacking sufficient scientific information, would have ascribed the natural disasters to the gods who either didn’t take into account that humans would be hurt by their action or inaction or actively directed their anger at the people who raised their ire.  Many natural disasters were seen as things that originated from the gods’ ire.  Rousing their ire could happen in several ways, from specifically offending them, to not honoring them properly, to honoring a god that they have a rivalry with instead of them.  One such example is Odysseus inThe Odyssey.  Poseidon has a grudge against Odysseus, which only worsens once Odysseus and his crew defeat the Cyclops, Polyphemos, who is the son of the god of the sea.  Through Poseidon’s wrath the journey home that Odysseus has takes ten long years, with him being the sole survivor from the group that set out after the Trojan War (Homer).


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Atsma, Aaron J. “Hermes Favor.” The Theoi Project, 2017,

Atsma, Aaron J. “Prometheus.” The Theoi Project, 2017,

Atsma, Aaron J. “Zeus Loves 3.” The Theoi Project, 2017,

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Harvard University Press, 1985.

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Graf, Fritz, and Sarah Iles Johnston. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets. Routledge, 2013.

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Serith, Ceisiwr. A Book of Pagan Prayer. Boston, MA: Weiser, 2002. Print.

“The Role of the Priest in ADF.” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. Web. 5 April 2018.<>.

Thomas, Kirk. “The Nature of Sacrifice” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. Web. 6 April 2018.<>.

Winter, Sarah Kate Istra. Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored. 2nd ed., Createspace, 2008.

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