So, in the last post for this blog I talked a little about why I don’t talk theology, particularly on the concept of a “universal” theology. After a few rounds of private Emails with a few readers here – I thought it might be a good idea to try and explain things from a different perspective. One reader – I’ll refer to her as “Annie” here, though that’s not her real name at all – noted that I didn’t have to talk theology at all with anyone that asks about my own personal beliefs. “Why not leave the theology out of it? Talk about what makes you be pagan?” That’s a good point. I was trying to answer a hypothetical position on a question I would have typically shrugged at in a non-committal way. Instead, I can easily take that question – and balloon-twist it around into something that’s much more palatable and positive to respond on. So, leaving the theological discussion, argument and debate to people who get into that kind of thing – let’s approach all of this from a better suggested direction.
Why Paganism? Why not another belief system? This is a really interesting place to start.
To explain this, I have to go back in time a little ways. Going back to my younger days – I’m 48 folks, not exactly a spring chicken – I raised in a non-spiritual household, while being sent to a variety of Catholic schools. My parents were both Protestants of one form or another…I’m not totally sure what, since religion wasn’t really one of the big areas of discussion around the dinner table. My parents were interested in my academic growth, and since the private Catholic schools offered a better option than the public schools – this is where they placed me. I wasn’t Catholic then, I’m not Catholic now – but I was indoctrinated into what the belief system was all about. It didn’t stick with me though. When I graduated from High School, I kept looking for something that really resonated with me – and eventually stumbled upon Wicca. While it wasn’t a perfect fit for me – it was close enough that I started down that Path. A few years down the Path – and it was fairly evident to me that it wasn’t going to be enough of a fit. I had been exposed to a lot of other Paths during my time in Wicca, and stepped into the world of neo-Paganism. Since that time, I’ve managed to assimilate pieces of other belief systems into something that works for me. Its a patch-work quilt, but it fits very well to what I believe.
You Say You Don’t Want to be a Priest, why not? This is a fairly easy one for me to answer.
I’m not now, never have been before, or will ever be a member of any clergy. Unless you stipulate that I am a believer in a religious system with a single adherent – me. Then, I could see describing myself as my own Priest. But even then, I’m reluctant to even accept any such title. In my mind (read: in my opinion), a clergy member serves as an intercessor between the adherent and the God/Gods/Creator/Source/Whatever. I don’t have some ready definition from Webster’s dictionary or anything else to explain that thought. Its just the way that I think when I hear the word “clergy”. There are plenty of people that I know of, and personally know, who are interested in attaining both the title and role of a clergy member. That’s just not for me. It works for them, and I’m ecstatic over the idea that they’ve found a role that not only works for them, but allows them to work for others. I’m a teacher (of sorts), both in the mundane life and in the spiritual sense. I tend to shy away from that role in the spiritual sense for much the same reason I eschew the role of a Priest: its a title and responsibility that I am unsure and somewhat unwilling to undertake.
What Do You See as a Defining Aspect of Paganism? How Do You Explain Your Paganism to Someone Else? This is where it gets a little tougher for me, since part of this can get wrapped up in dogmatic theory.
Paganism, for me, is a reverence of all things within Nature. I like being outdoors in the country – particular up in the mountains – so it translates to that type of environment for me. Do I believe in the manifestation of the Gods? Of course I do – I don’t think the Gods manifest themselves as a single entity in front of me. Sometimes, I see Coyote in the form of the coyote packs that come through our neighborhood here from time to time. I live in the northern part of the DFW metro-mess, and occasional the wildlife pushes in from around the lake. I love it when that happens – the rest of the neighborhood tends to freak out. But that’s a completely different aspect. When I see some of the wildlife that normally isn’t around here – I can see the hands of various Gods involved in all of that – particularly in my being where I can see such sights. Sometimes, I get the feeling that such sightings are a way for the Gods to “tell” me something. Sometimes, its just a moment of “look at this – beautiful, majestic — yes?” But I see the Gods in many other manifestations too – such as when my computer starts giving me fits for no reason whatsoever — that’s the Trickster out there.
Explaining my understanding of Paganism to someone is a hard thing to do for me. I try to live my Paganism – my belief that I am a steward that can help with my environment while being a part of that environment. When I take my walks, I take a trash bag with me and pick up garbage in my neighborhood. When my neighborhood/city has projects where the planting of trees and bushes are done – I volunteer. When park cleanups are scheduled, I show up and help however I can. For me, its a lot easier to show my Pagan belief through the way I view and assist with my local environment. The “theological” side of things – that’s something that takes a lot more time to explain. Typically, I choose to explain this side of what I am slowly. I talk about how I view the Gods – and that each one is a single manifestation to me. I also try to point out that my belief in the Gods is no different than their belief in the Christian Trinity. We just ascribe a different understanding to the world around us. It doesn’t make us right or wrong – merely that we see things differently.
You Have Often Talked About How You Disdain Ritual. Why? Personally, I think the descriptive of “disdain” is a little harsh, but a lot of it has to do with the way I understand and deal with the concept of “ritual”.
Many Pagans that I have come across see ritual as a way of honoring the Gods, the Seasons, the Ancestors – through something that is akin to a standard pattern of actions and/or words. Through that repeating pattern, they honor the traditions, and values of what they believe – and affirm those thoughts through their actions. At least that’s how I have come to understand their perspectives of ritual. I hate making this statement – because essentially I am painting with very broad strokes over something that is so individualistic, even from group to group. But for the sake of argument, I’ll let this sit – so I can compare/contrast against it – despite the fact that I’m not overly fond of the entire statement.
I don’t disdain or dislike ritual. I just don’t see ritual as a set pattern that happens on a certain day or a certain time or for a certain reason. For me, every single day is a ritual, every single moment is a ritual. Even the mundane things that I do fall under the concept of ritual. Mowing my yard. Cleaning the kitchen. Cooking my food. Sitting in the living room catching a Cincinnati Reds game. Each moment that I take breath in this world is one where I am honoring the memory of my ancestors. I don’t have to do the things that they did – I merely have to live by the principles that they came to North America for — the ability to be free to do as they (and eventually myself) need to, within the construct of the civil and social laws in place. Every moment that I walk through my neighborhood, meditate in my living room, dance around my living room to the Grateful Dead (yes, I do this and am not ashamed of it), pay my bills, play with my cats — I honor the Gods. Every moment of every single day is a part of the ritual for me. I don’t need robes or “sacred” chants for it. I don’t even need to be in a good mood. I just need to LIVE. I don’t disdain the idea of ritual – I see it as something much different, something much larger. When I pass from this incarnation into the Summerlands, and eventually into another incarnation — this particular life that I lived is my ritual.
So that’s just a handful of the questions that I have gotten in Email. To be completely honest, I found this to be much more positive for me than the previous way that I answered the question of explaining a Pagan Theology. I’m not a theologian – and honestly, I don’t even bother with many books on theology. I’m just a humble (sometimes) Pagan stepping my way along my own Path in life. To paraphrase Dennis Miller’s character in the movie “Demolition Man” — I live life as I feel I need to – sometimes other people come along.