Recently, Damh the Bard put out a blog post which focused on how one’s approach changes in their Spirituality. At the end of the blog post, he set out a paragraph asking several questions.
So tell me. What do you want from your Paganism? I’m not talking about the Pagan community here, I’m talking about your personal quest. Is group work/initiation important anymore? What do you want your path to help you feel/see? Does it achieve that? What turns you on spiritually? Ecstatic dance? Drums? Or quiet contemplation? Has Paganism lost its teeth over the past couple of decades in an effort to become acceptable to the mainstream? Does that bother you?
So, I decided to give it a try and answer him. And I thought it would make an interesting blog post on top of that. Plus, considering that it flows into what I am doing for NoNoWriMo, I decided to add it into what I am writing there as well. (Best Oprah voice) You get a win, and you get a win, and you get a win…..
To really answer this, I have to take a few steps backwards. I first encountered Paganism through Wicca. My first introduction was through a High Priestess I was dating. She tried to explain her beliefs to me, and when I faltered in understanding – she tossed four books to me to read. “Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler, “The Spiral Dance” by Starhawk, “, “Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft” by Raymond Buckland, and “Witchcraft From the Inside”, also by Raymond Buckland. After reading each of them, I began to realize that Wicca was the nearest approximation for what I felt inside of me. It wasn’t a perfect fit by any stretch of the imagination, but it was far closer than my forays into Catholicism (of my youth), and Southern Baptist (shortly after high school) had been.
Long conversations ensued between her, myself, and two other members of her coven. And the more the conversations continued, the more I began to realize that Wicca was not the right fit for me. There was a lot of talk of a God and Goddess – and the many faces that the two had, and a lot of usage of the term archetypes from Jungian philosophy. I felt very differently. There were many Gods and Goddesses, each was unique and distinct. Not many faces of a Goddess and God. Furthermore, the stylized ritual aspect was not something I was comfortable with. Circles that enclosed a ritual from the outside world just did not feel right to me. When the United States Air Force moved me along to a European posting, I decided to also leave the conceptual aspects of Wicca, as I had been taught, behind as well. I kept pieces that worked for me, such as ritual work – but without the conceptual boundaries of a circle. Through Adler’s work, I started exploring the conceptual edges of other ideas, stylizing myself as a “neo-Pagan” during this time frame.
During all of this, as well as my time being stationed at Sembach Air Base in Germany, my need from Paganism was to find my footing in the wider world. To determine who I was, where I was, and what I wanted out of life. Paganism provided many, many different Paths. Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” allowed me to approach many different doorways, and try ideas and concepts I had only thought were possible. And while many of those steps proved to not be accurate or correct for me, I learned more from each one – and incorporated more ideas and concepts into my own Spiritual practices.
That was 1986 to 1994. A good chunk of time backwards in my life from this point. In 2007, I eventually stumbled onto Druidry, my current Path. The fit is better than Wicca was before. Then again, I am far more weathered, and not quite the idealistic young man I used to be. My wide-eyed first steps were measured with the ideas that if everyone became Pagans, the world would be a better place to live. Nice dreams, but I am far older, and a great deal more experienced than I was before. I still believe that Paganism still has a lot to teach people, myself included. But my needs from Paganism are quite different now.
Paganism, from my own perspective, provides me a lens through which to see the world around me. I am still a polytheist. I see the world through that lens. I have Crow, Coyote and Flidais in my life to one degree or another. I continue to learn about Connectedness with the world around me. I am working on living Intentionally – that is to say, I am trying to live my life in a particular fashion with a particular attitude and perspective. Paganism continues to provide a familiar framework from which I can approach these concepts. Has my perspective changed? Certainly it has. My understanding of what being a Pagan means to me grows with who I am becoming. In a manner of speaking, I am glad that remains comfortable to me, but I also realize that there is still a degree of uncertainty that is out there – and that no matter how far I reach, I won’t and cannot know everything. Paganism continues to be a source of mystery, education, and familiarity for me. What do I want from my Paganism? The same thing that I have been getting from it over the last thirty years…an excitement for living, learning, understanding, and communing with the Gods and Goddesses. What will that look like in the future? Search me, but I am excited about what it may become.
I never thought I would look for what turns me on Spiritually….but it is an interesting question. One thing that helps me recenter myself spiritually is just getting out into forested or mountainous areas. Just being in environments like that allows me to really relax and breathe. But then discussing things of a spiritual nature with other Pagans makes for a great moment as well. I never would have guessed that would happen until the huge round-table discussion at Many Gods West this year. Being able to talk and discuss matters concerning individual approaches to the Gods and Goddesses and Ancestors was amazing. I would never have guessed at how much something like that would have really meant to me before. But then, there’s ritual. The dynamics of being around the campfires at the various events I have attended. The stories and tales and myths we all tell to one another around that same campfire late at night. Attempting to quantify that is difficult, but each one of those moments help feed and nourish who I am as a Pagan. And as an individual who is a determined solo Pagan, that is a surprising perspective. That interaction with others would comprise such an integral part of my own Spiritual practice.
….and what about the mainstreaming of Paganism today?? Am I upset by this? Am I even fazed by it? Honestly, I can remember when new folks would come into the orbit of my first Wiccan coven. I would wonder what brought them into Paganism? For some, its the prospect of being around others with a similar perspective. Some would look towards being able to learn ritual and magick concepts as being tops in their books. And yes, there are a few Pagans that don’t really get into ritual or magick. I am one of those that uses magick sparingly…sparingly enough that it could be described as “next-to-never”. Nowadays, My sense of wonder is even greater. Often, I hear people describe the Gods and Goddesses in terms of movie sets and the actors and actresses that play those characters. When I think of Paganism becoming mainstream, this is where that concept comes to mind. When people take something that is in pop culture and bring it to their beliefs…. But then, I have to recall how I got into the Gods and Goddesses. At eleven, I read about some of Them in the encyclopedias at the military base library. The Greek Gods and Goddesses were most prominent. Then, in my mid-teens, I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, which eventually brought the concept of Gods and Goddesses into light through “Dieties and Demigods”. A wider selection of the Gods was available here. And I have to wonder….is that any different from the comic-book/movie characters that have some people coming to Paganism today? Certainly, newbies come into Paganism wide-eyed, marveling at all the sights around them – ecstatic over the gobs of information that smack them directly in the face. And I remember….to one degree or another, I was probably the same way. In one light, these newbies might upset me, with their, seemingly, non-serious manner of viewing things. They discuss Loki in the light of Tom Hiddleston…slamming their understanding directly upon this Hollywood construct. But to be completely honest, these folks will start somewhere. Those that find a seriousness that connects with who they are deep inside themselves, will find their steps on a Pagan Path lengthening further into their lives. They will find much richer detail, description, and value within rituals, discussions, and whatever Spiritual outlook that works for them. Those that didn’t, will slide away and find their next shiny object to fixate on. Is that the complete truth? I am not totally sure, but I know that if I didn’t believe that – this fifty-two year-old Pagan wouldn’t be who he is today.
Take up Damh’s questions. Write them in your journals. Come back to these questions again a decade from now – and see how your perspective changes. For me, this has really opened some different directions for me – and will bring to life quite a few other topics in the near and far future.