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Flow

This is less a journal of my proclamations as it is a record of my process.

I am figuring it out as I go.

If you think you’ve already got it figured out, my writing may likely rub you the wrong way.

Over the past several days I’ve been in the midst of what my husband identified as a “post-modern dilemma.” Everything is up in the air, it seems. Nothing feels grounded, or imbued with clear and certain purpose. Relevance is fuzzy. I find myself looking at the sea of ideas before me and thinking, “But what’s the point? What of all this is actually meaningful?

My husband, who listens patiently as my heart-rate and pitch climb in tandem, suggested that I work a little to hash out my beliefs. My own beliefs.

Not the architecture of the system I’m operating in. Not the beliefs of most ADF Druids, or the beliefs of hard and soft polytheists, monists, superhero-devotees or chaos magicians.

Mine.

When I recently told a new acquaintance, who has been active in the Pagan community for a long time, that Pagans were a “people of practice, more so than a people of belief,” she said,

“Are you kidding me? Really? Pagans concerned with practice? That’s not been my experience.”

Perhaps we’re not what I think we are.

I don’t talk about belief much. I dodge the questions, sometimes. My mother asked me what I believed during a conversation about me being a Pagan, and I tried to give her a general overview of the things that Pagans believe.

It was a total cop-out.

I think most of us avoid talking about belief. When we do talk about it, we run the risk of being barked at, being told we’re wrong, being alienated, or being scolded. Beliefs, Ian Corrigan once told me, are just opinions. I’m not sure I agree with him. Beliefs feel more intimate than opinions. Beliefs nudge up against the places where we’re most vulnerable.

So what do I believe?

I’m going to give it a go at explaining it here. I’ll write without stopping for three minutes and see what happens.

Ready…

Go.

 ____________

I believe that we’re all connected. I believe that the human heart is king, and that the focus on the divine over the human is a mistake. I believe it’s backwards to establish a religion that’s based on the gods first, because we are human, and the act of being human is all we have to reference. We cannot be certain about much of anything, and to build a religious practice around the things that we are least certain about seems foolish, and fearful in a way.

I believe that it’s easier to be dogmatic than to be honest about the things you don’t know. I believe that there are people in every religious tradition who want to assert that they know what the gods want, and that a lot of hard polytheists are the ones doing that now. I believe that the hard polytheists who are railing against the soft and fluffy Pagans are sounding a lot like the monotheists that many of them detest so much.

I believe that I’m Pagan, but sometimes I think that I’m more of a lowercase “p” pagan; that my religious life is a construct, an artifice, a choice.

I believe that if we all were more aware that what we’re doing in our religious life is a choice, we might be a little less inclined to lash out at one another when we realize they’ve made a different choice than we have.

I believe that every idea we have about the divine is a choice. I believe that hard polytheism is a choice, as is soft polytheism and all the other -isms. I believe that it’s right to acknowledge that because your religious life is a choice, there is a possibility that your views are not completely accurate.

I believe that accuracy is not the most important component of a religious life.

I believe that authenticity is more important than accuracy.

I believe that if your tradition is not fostering something authentic in you, you should leave. Or stay, if you feel that staying and working to represent yourself is authentic.

I believe that the seed of wisdom is in all of us, and if there was anything that was like the God that I knew as a child, it is this. It may not be sentient, and it may not be the creator of the universe, but there is something in my heart that is like the thing in your heart, and if this thing could be awakened in us, we might recognize it in each other.

I believe that everything we do in our life should foster the awakening of that seed of fire in our hearts.

Everything.

 ____________

Ok. That was more like 7 minutes.

My first question, which seems a little funny to me, is:

What does that make me?

Somehow I’m conditioned to be something, and I’m not sure that’s the point.

I am expression.

I am caught up in the flow.

That’s what I am.

And, sustaining that — being the expression of this long list of things I believe — seems like the truest task ever set before me.

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  • Christy

    Thank you for this post. How to describe my beliefs to others is very challenging, which is why I avoid it completely. Judgements, misunderstandings, “oh that’s really just ____-ism”, no thanks. And it does change and morph according to the day. But I like “I am caught up in the flow.” Perfect

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for the comment, Christy.

  • Dhiosdh

    Hi Teo, I resonate with much of what you say here but was surprised by your raising of authenticity over accuracy so soon after your critical remarks about the hard polytheists. The hard polytheists whose blogs I follow have all been saying the exact same thing. So that suggests to me that what you mean by authenticity isn’t necessarily the same as them. Perhaps going forward you could define your own take on authenticity? Anyway, best wishes as you go forward on your journey.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for the comment, Dhiosdh. Perhaps it would, indeed, be a good subject for a future piece about how I view authenticity. (I’d also love to read whatever posts you’re referring to.)

      Blessings to you.

      • Dhiosdh

        Well there’s been a lot of discussion over the past couple of weeks around Sannion’s House of Vines and Dver’s A Forest Door, amongst other places. They are hard polytheists but not strict recons, as I understand it, so your authenticity (though I don’t know that they’d use the term) over accuracy equation would fit them too. The problem though is that the notion of authenticity, as Bruce Springsteen said recently, is just a hall of mirrors. We only see ourselves in it. To some people ‘authenticity’ means bring true first and foremost to one’s feelings or instincts, to another to tradition, to another the gods, and so on. So I don’t think ‘authenticity’ gets us anywhere. That’s why the first part of your post is better, where you talk about human beings before gods because it reflects actual values that can be meaningfully discussed.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    Lovely post, Teo. I won’t say I agree or disagree, because that would be kind of exactly missing the point, wouldn’t it? :-)

    A reframing of the “Pagans concerned with practice” remark by your friend: I’ve taken it not as “concern” with practice, but definition by practice. I call myself Pagan because I do Pagan things without trying to claim they’re anything else. If I hang a Green Man on the back wall of the house and say a little prayer or act out a little ritual to sacralize the space, I do it as a Pagan practice. A Christian might do the same thing with a cross — or even a Green Man! — but it will be framed as a Christian blessing. In my book, that makes them a Christian.

    The confusion comes from the fact that Evangelical Christians (and to some extent, all Protestant Christians, and many Catholics, and a lot of Muslims, Jews, Hinuds, and others) have gotten tangled up in the “but are you a True Whatever In Your Heart?” question, because they have adopted a theology where faith-of-the-heart makes more difference to God than anything else, such as feeding the poor or being kind to their neighbors or hanging a cross (or a Green Man) in their back yard.

    I don’t go down that slippery slope. I consider myself a Pagan who is skeptical of all the gods and not terribly devout, because of my Pagan practice, not my beliefs — which are highly changeable. And if the hard polytheists want to consider me a fraud, or a hypocrite, or a fluff bunny, they’re absolutely welcome to their opinion. :-)

  • Julian Marcus

    Great orthopraxy vs orthodoxy debate. I have had many discussion about this.

  • Sharon Knight

    This is lovely and honest. Thank you. Since following some of the same debates, I have been struggling to put my own beliefs into words. It’s been difficult to talk about them precisely, and is a good challenge to re-evaluate where I might have fallen into dogmatic thinking vs. “Anything goes” thinking. Neither extreme works for me, yet walking the razor’s edge between the two is tricky indeed. An fact, finding the “Tao” of that, as it were, might be the core of the practice for me at this time.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    “But above all else, to thine own self be true.” :)
    Progress forward, however slow, is still progress. Best wishes on your journey.

  • Tommy Elf

    Teo — I hardly ever comment on your stuff…but I just felt like I needed to add something in here. Are you trying to define what you believe? Or are you trying to label it?? Personally, I refer to myself as a neo-Pagan (though a lot of folks have issues with the “neo” part) and work through my own personal spiritual practice on an OBOD framework. However…

    I sit here reading what you wrote – and I started wondering “why”? I don’t really know you…so I can’t really hang your framework of conversation on the concept. But I can utilize my own experiences. I went through a similar perspective quite a few years back. I questioned myself on the understanding of other people’s experiences…until I realized that trying to square what *I* believe with what *other people* believe was a fruitless exercise for me. “Vision_From_Afar” noted in one of the comments – “…to thine own self be true…” — and I agree within my understanding of that statement. Why worry if your beliefs fit into the definitions of someone else? Do you have to believe as they do?? Personally, I say no. You believe as you do – because you are a unique individual. Some of what you believe will cross-over with what others believe…but in the end, you are you.

    I’m not totally sure any of that makes sense…my brain tends to think faster than my fingers can output on its behalf….

    –Tommy

  • Owyl

    This is such an affirming message that I needed to read.

  • John H Halstead

    Great post Teo!. I found myself saying, “yes, yes, yes!” And beautifully phrased. BTW, It’s great to see you back. I’m glad your hiatus was brief. I hope you’re still taking care of yourself.

  • Byron Tyler Coles

    Great! I find it disheartening that so many Pagans revert to discussions on practice instead of belief. It is the very belief in which you posses at a deep, heart-felt level that inspires your practice. At least that is how I understand my own personal practice, it is motivated by my belief in the Divine (God-Herself, the Gods, the Ancestors, the {insert whatever}). I also find it interesting that you are one of several Pagans, and individuals of other religious/spiritual/non-spiritual traditions which hold the same opinion concerning what I understand as a well-spring of Spirit. Cornell West as a Christian often refers to himself as a “man lead by the Spirit.” Though this is clearly the Holy Spirit of the Christian tradition, I find that many Pagans have described this sense of motivation, maybe even a pedagogical pull in the same way. For me I feel the same, that is why identifying as a “Witch” makes so much more sense to me than “Pagan,” though I do use it. Though my craft practice is not what some within the Witchcraft community believes it should be, I am a person highly focused on my spiritual relationship to the Divine and the Ancestors. This free-will ability to connect and shift my own personal consciousness and environment in which I can experience the great divine is something I consider a true skill in which identifies as Witch.

  • cara

    Pairing this post with your one on hard polytheism leads me to believe you don’t interact with hard polytheists very often. In person, where you can have a meaningful conversation. I could be wrong.

    As a hard polytheist who values accuracy greatly, I know it is that accuracy that gives my spirituality depth and meaning. I flailed around, and fought against traditional practice, for years. After all, i was looking for what MY religious outlook would be. Then others in my religion told me to simply do the very basics that my religious ancestors did for 6 months. Just DO that.

    It completely changed my entire spiritual life. It had profound meaning and affected my beliefs and had a positive impact on my daily life. There was a reason people worshiped that way for thousands of years. It provides a solid base of support to build on. One that doesn’t shift under my feet or blow away with the winds. When I stopped trying to recreate the wheel and used the wheels I inherited, I was able to build my cart and get moving.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that some of us who are in revived religions vales accuracy because it is the path to authenticity.