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How do I know I’m a Pagan?

I mean, really

I had this thought after my unexpected visit to church. I also had this thought after I returned home from Beltania, the Colorado Beltane gathering I attended and presented at over my birthday weekend. It may seem strange that I would question my Pagan identity after a Pagan gathering, but that’s what happened.

Don’t get me wrong — I had fun. I mean, I erected a giant phallus after all. The festival provided a sense of community for the Pagans who attended, and it was clear that most everybody was having a great time. Joy Burton and the Living Earth Center crew worked their butts off putting this thing together, and they deserve a huge congratulations. But on a personal level, I walked away feeling like most of what I experienced — the culture of it all — was simply not my cup of tea.

Perhaps it was the Wiccan-centric nature of the gathering that made me feel a little out of place. Or maybe I just had Lonely Druid Complex. It certainly wasn’t anyone else’s fault, though. The festival did exactly what it was supposed to do. It’s become a very important part of the Colorado (and surrounding states) Pagan community, and I’m glad I went.

But when I got home I couldn’t quite remember what it felt like to be a part of ADF, or even to be a practicing Pagan. It was like I didn’t know what path I was on any more.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Then, this morning, I did ritual.

I did a full fledged, bells and whistles ritual. My shrine was fresh and new after an impulse yesterday afternoon to rearrange it, so I lit a candle and some charcoal and began.

I did my Paganism.

And that’s how I know. That’s how I know I’m a Pagan.

I know by doing.

I am through the doing.

My beliefs, opinions, ideas and thoughts move fluidly from one shape to another, never solidifying into something hard or rigid. (Who wants ideas with hard edges? I don’t.) But my practice, a practice that I’ve been developing for years, is the foundation of my Paganism.

It is informed by my mystical experiences, by my meditative inquiries, and by my upbringing. This ritual of mine is about as close to an Episcopal service as you might find from any Pagan (well… short of the drumming mid-way through). My home practice informs my perspectives about festivals, and church services, and dialogues about deity, and all the other things that cross my path.

Mine is a religious practice of relationship. Ghosti is the word used in ADF to define this ancient understanding of reciprocal relationship, and the need for relationship is real. I maintain relationship with my practice in order to maintain relationship with the Kindred — the Gods of my heart and of this place, the Spirits of the world around me, and my Ancestors. These relationships inform my other relationships, which circle back to inform my ritual…

It’s a series of cascading circles of reverence and sacredness.

Photo by Claudio Alejandro Mufarrege

Photo by Claudio Alejandro Mufarrege

I’m happy to discover after a brief dry spell that I am still very much a Pagan; still very much an ADF Druid. It turns out it wasn’t really an identity crisis, but just a moment of pause.

Should I begin to question again, I will light my fire, burn my charcoal, and see how the doing of my Paganism affects my perspective.

What about you?

Have you experienced this sense of disconnect from your path? Was there an event that made you wonder if you were still a Pagan? Where did you go from there? How did you reconcile yourself to that experience, and do you still identify as a Pagan now?

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  • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

    I experience that every damn day. I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly moved by a Pagan ceremony, even ones that I’ve been an integral part of. To be honest, even the ritual that I perform for myself on full moons or in conjunction with the SDF liturgies that you’ve put together don’t really move me.

    In the end, I decided that my Paganism isn’t about doing or experiencing. My Paganism is all in my head-space. It’s a way of thinking about the interconnectedness of the world and the beings that walk upon it. It’s a philosophy that allows me to answer the questions that religion and spirituality have wrestled with since time immemorial. And, in the end, choosing to be Pagan leaves me empowered in a way that Judaism never did, even if I had more numinous experiences while in a synagogue than I’ve ever experienced in a circle, grove, or gathering.

    I think, because of the difference that I perceive between myself and many other Pagans (especially those who have had a mystical or numinous experience of their gods), this is why I argue so strenuously for a big-tent, collective style of Paganism rather than one that separates us into different faith communities based on traditions. The former gives me a place in the tent while the latter, I think, does not.

    And, despite my differences, I am Pagan.

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

      Thank you for your comment, Dash. I so value your perspective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wbrook3 William Brook

    I have been studying and a practiced Pagan for over 15 years and I still have times in my life where I question my faith and spirituality. I usually find the same answer as you did, through ritual or some form of meditation. (Either stationary or moving meditation, like Yang style Tai Chi that I use.) I find for myself that the questioning derives from fear ultimately and forgetting that I too am part of the divine and am also God.

    Hail & Blessings /|

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

      And blessings to you as well, William!

  • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

    I’ve been Solitary my entire life, so I understand the sense of isolation. For the most part, I’ve given up trying to piece together a religious practice (religion being an aspect of a larger community) and focused more on a personal theological and spiritualist emphasis. I’ve never been big on the Church community too, especially as my family was forcibly ejected from the Church we went to based on socio-economic grounds.

    I was invited to an Ostara ritual earlier this year and walked away from it with a lot to unpack. The long story short, due to the vagaries of the Wiccan-dominated Pagan community, no. I did not feel like I belonged there. I’m in more of a reconstructionist phase right now, and the ritual was decidedly lacking what I was longing for, even if I do not know what it was. It was more a “This isn’t right, but what is?” moment.

    I am still a Pagan. That won’t change, because I want Paganism to transition from a Celtic-inspired/Wiccan-dominated community to a true community of multiple faiths. I want the community to stop fracturing because someone feels like it IS a Wiccan-dominated group, and go off and form their own Recon-group or something, and adamantly disassociate with the term Pagan.

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

      Thanks for the comment, Marc.

      While I felt a sense of… call it a “cosmological disconnect” with the Wiccan aspects of the weekend, I’m not bashing Wicca. I also was willing to participate in the rituals — fully — in the rituals I attended. When I danced around the Maypole, drumming up the ribbon holders, I wasn’t concerned about whether the dualistic nature of the theology conflicted with my personal beliefs, nor was I holding onto issues of gender (i.e. male/female aspects of deity). I was just in it. Whole-heartedly.

      And I think that’s part of what you’re getting at. I needn’t feel scorned by the presence of a tradition that isn’t my own, and I’ve seen that the Wiccans in my area are more than willing to accomodate those of different trads. I love that about them.

      As Ken pointed out in his comment, there were a couple of Druids present at the festival, and our presence is important. If we want our traditions represented, we must do a bit of that representing ourselves.

      Again, thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.facebook.com/hkenneth.porter H Kenneth Porter

    The Wiccan-centric nature of Beltania threw me a curve the first time I attended. (I identify more with the Trad-Craft crowd.) When I asked some of the Beltania staff about the preponderance of Wicca stuff, I was told that it was simply because nobody else had approached them with anything else. (I was happy to see two Druids put on presentations.) So, it would be cool if folks from other nodes of Pagan life mixed it up with them.
    Personally, I felt VERY Pagan at the festival; and, it recharged my “batteries.” I came home, lit the candles, rang the bell, and shared water with the ancestors, thanking them for being with me during the whole thing.

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

      I’m so glad you had that experience at Beltania, Ken. It sounds like it did exactly what it needed to do for you.

      William and I, both, were grateful that you were at our presentation, and I’m glad we had a change to visit a bit throughout the weekend!

  • Fridr Kelley

    I generally have a big issue defining who and what I am. I have yet to really complete a whole ritual. I still feel stupid doing it. I spend a lot of time reading, i spend a lot of time just….waiting. Looking at the clouds, marveling at dandelions. I guess that is how I ‘define’ i am pagan. I wish, oh Goddess I wish I could find someone to be with me while I do it. Someone who can “take control” so I don’t feel as silly as I do. Yet…I grow.

    Thank you for this post. It is ….helpful

    • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

      Not sure if this is gonna make you feel better or worse, but after 15 years of doing this, I still feel silly quite a lot. Hell, I have more than a little anxiety around having my partner (she’s not Pagan) in the house when I’m doing ritual because I tend to speak loudly and with some drama. It’s all about working through those feelings, when you need to, and accepting that, in the end, we’re all rather silly at one time or another.

      • SauleKarklas

        “Hell, I have more than a little anxiety around having my partner in the house when I’m doing ritual…” I am so glad to hear I’m not the only one! 10 years on and I’ve still not got over that “Stage Fright”, even when I’m alone.

  • Ywen DragonEye

    I have on occasion questioned my path, felt a disconnect. As a Druid, this sometimes comes at pagan-fests as well where I look around and don’t necessarily feel like I belong. But when Summer gives way to the first brisk morning of Autumn, when the air smells of dry grass and a hint of rain, when I feel the veil thinning as Samhain approaches….oh yes, I am definately a Pagan.

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

      Thank you for this comment, Ywen. There are distinct moments that each of has that feeling of *knowing*, and they need not all be at large, multi-trad Pagan gatherings.

      It has to happen in the heart first.

  • seanmichaelmorris

    I wonder, Teo, if there aren’t ways in which you are essentially Pagan, even during times when you aren’t doing ritual, or feel lost in the midst of Beltania? I’m not normally an essentialist (too much postmodernism between the ears to truck with that), but I think we are often the things we are even when we’re not practicing. I used to tell my writing students that they didn’t have to write to be writers. And when I fall away from my yoga practice, I still consider myself a yogi. This is, of course, problematic, and it may be as dashifen says in his comment — that being something happens in our head-space — but I think it’s important to consider that there are ways we bubble up as who we are and what we are that are not directly related to how we expect those things to present.

    For example, writers are often eavesdroppers. They are noticers of detail. Yogis are connected to their bodies even out of asana, and are usually looking for ways to make regular life into philosophical/ethical life. Is a Pagan a Pagan because of the ritual he does? I don’t know… I’d wager you were a Pagan when you were Episcopalian (I know a little of what I speak, of course), that always the divine had a little more earth and water and fire to it than is spoken of in the New Testament. I know that I’ve been urging myself slowly toward yogic philosophy my whole life, taking from my brief stint in the Catholic church, and even my experiences with Paganism, interpretations of those traditions that reinforce my view of the world a compassionate, ethical experiment. Perhaps when you’re not feeling Pagan, you’re yet Pagan still. And it is ritual that reminds you, but does not make you thus.

    I like what you say about moments of pause. I think these are key in the formation, evolution, and enactment of identity, whether a spiritual, practical, social, or political one. Evolution happens eventually, not suddenly, and there are great spans of time when nothing at all seems to be occurring on the surface… but significant change is being wrought beneath. I take moments of pause in the creative process, or in the enactment of my own personality/character upon the world, as gestational.

    In which case, the ritual after a pause is not only a reminder, nor exactly enactment, but a birthing. Something new found in the sameness, a Heraclitean discovery, a reconsideration.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BlakeOctavianBlair Blake Octavian Blair

    I think a lot of public Pagan gatherings tend to take on that generic Wicca-centric flavor. I am an eclectic Pagan witch who resonates with many flavors but I am not Wiccan. I have nothing against Wiccans, I have wonderful Wiccan friends, but it is not my personal style. The bell that you rang that struck a resonant cord within me during this blog post was the concept of practicing *your* Paganism. I think that is what many of us do, those of us who are primarily solitary or practice in our home with our spouses and occasionally with a group of friends. I think many of us in that position, have a bit of the “lonely druid” syndrome with public gatherings that are very much flavored with primarily one flavor palate. It isn’t a bad flavor but it doesn’t satisfy diverse tastes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

    Funny, I usually have the exact opposite reaction when I go to a pan-Pagan festival. I become more convinced that I’m a Pagan and that nobody else at the festival is. Which is why I seldom go to such events these days, >8)

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

      LOL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joanne.shemmans Joanne Shemmans

    Hello everyone. I first felt that paganism was the right path for me when i was expecting my son, almost sixteen years ago. I have never been a ‘ritualistic’ kind of person, and did briefly go to a few ‘moots’ but found them to be very Wiccan, and as some here have said, to me my beliefs were always more spirtual and connected with nature than around ceremony.

    My big issue began about nine years ago when my grandmother died after a long battle with severe dementia and personality disorder. Her passing was far from peaceful and for a while it left me questioning my beliefs. However, I reigned myself back in and felt I was still confident with how i felt. Then about five years ago, I asked for something in a ritual for my son. It was very important to his happiness. This request was not answered, and has left my son and our family in a very difficult position as a result. Since that time, my beliefs have significantly dwindled to the point where my son, who is now grown, asks me if I am even pagan anymore, and I have to answer honestly and say ‘I don’t know’.

    The trouble is, without my spiritual path I feel disjointed, and as the years have passed I have started to suffer more from stress, and even physical fatigue. I would like to feel connected again, but how can I do so if I don’t ‘feel’ it in my heart? I would really greatly appreciate advice from those with more experience.

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

    There are at least three different ways to take this question.

    1) You are a Pagan if you feel comfortable participating in the religious practices of other people who call themselves Pagan.

    2) You are a Pagan if other people who call themselves Pagans accept you as a Pagan.

    3) You are a Pagan if you consider yourself, in good faith and with honest self-assessment, a Pagan.

    I think if you fail all three tests, you probably aren’t a Pagan. :-)

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

    Too bad you missed last year’s Beltania, Teo. The Treehenge Druidic Circle did a full OBOD Beltaine rite on Saturday afternoon, set to music (the Missa Druidica, sung by the Orpheus Pagan Chamber Choir). I heard good comments from people afterward.

    Definitely did NOT have a Wiccan flavor. :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/eilidh.nicsidheag Eilidh Nic Sidheag

    Knowing by doing… yeah. One of the things I still value from my previous Christian/Christo-pagan path is the insights I got from the Ignatian spiritual tradition, and one of those insights was that when you’re going through a phase of doubting, the one thing you must not do is stop practising. Sometimes the practice will lead you back into a deeper understanding of your current path, and sometimes it will lead you to realise that it’s time to move on to a new path, but you have to keep up the practice until the way ahead becomes clear. And that’s how I found my way to ADF.