Since When Were Will and Grace Pagan?

On the last day of the Eight Winds Festival, an hour or so before heading to the airport, I sat around the fire with my fellow ADF members and participated in a discussion with the Senior Priests about the future of ADF’s Dedicant Path (DP). For those not involved with the organization, the DP is a means of introducing people to ADF’s cosmology, philosophy and common ritual format, and it is the first step in a course of study that can eventually lead to priesthood.

There was a moment in the conversation when Ian Corrigan said that his was a religion of will, not of grace. Now, for those of you who read that sentence and drifted away to sitcom-land, come back to us — he was not talking about Will and Grace. He was saying — I believe — that will, the ability to direct, or at the very least, affect one’s own fate, reality, or circumstance, is more important — more central to his worldview — than grace, which he seemed to connect to a theology of sin and redemption, being fallen and needing to be redeemed.

Something about the idea of a religion that was all will and no grace sat wrong with me.

Grace, I think, is best understood from the human perspective. Getting inside the mind of the gods — especially if you understand them to be in possession of distinct consciousnesses — is no simple matter. Some say it’s impossible; a feat only a fool would attempt. The mind of the human, however, is something we all possess, so perhaps it is better to begin any theological discussion by first looking at how the theological concept influences, or is influenced by, being human.

From the perspective of this mortal man, I see grace as a process of surrendering to all which one does not have control over. As powerful a mage as you may become through your religious work, I don’t believe one can control everything. Your will, after all, is not the only will. I do not see one needing to connect grace to a particular theology, or to a single deity, in order for it to have relevance. An atheist, for example, might experience grace by remembering and recognizing that they fit within a greater, more complicated, more interconnected ecosystem. Grace occurs in conjunction with that kind of humility.

I’m still piecing this together for myself, but I think my religion might better understood as a relationship between one’s will and one’s openness to grace. Perhaps I’m attempting to strike the balance between the two in order to discover and negotiate my place within the cosmos. Perhaps thinking that my entire life is simply a product of my will alone is more pressure that I’m willing to accept. I don’t know.

These thoughts come up at the close of my Indiegogo Campaign, an attempt at raising funds for an EP of Pagan-centric music, which did not succeed. I’m close-examining my will, my intentions behind this project, and holding all of that up against the idea of grace. Perhaps one might encourage me at this moment to uncover the ways in which my will was not clearly executed, but I’m choosing not to do that. Rather, I’m attempting acceptance, surrender, and humility. I’m taking a moment to be soft with myself, and to remember that there are lessons to be learned in every situation, even when the outcome was not in line with one’s will.

Let me take this opportunity to thank all of the 75 people who contributed to the campaign, whether publicly or anonymously. You gave generously, you shared many words of encouragement, and your contribution and support will not be forgotten.

Thank you to:

David Salisbury, alan928, Lori Davies, Rowan Pendragon, ibyogi, handheldmgmt, gaiascolours, Rob Henderson, dennisray62, dottiemoore1, Pamela Jones, carmiac, Mary Davis, tis.caitlin, Brann Armstrong, Snowcrashak, Jhenah Telyndru, mzlott, jeffharrison, Valerie LaVay, David Dashifen Kees, karenfox1, kkimminau, starling.foster, bard3, John Halstead, naomijacobs10, davidhughes123, T Thorn Coyle, jaimelws, Stephanie Gunn, slleedodger313, jesse.stommel, themon, kairamoon, birchtreenymph, btmanassa, stevestaj, Elizabeth Abbott, prophat77, leonaoigheag, celticphoenix03, thedrewbrody, negelhoff, Jason Hatter, contribute1341274389, knottydragon, druidbetula, dandelionlady, Ellie Smith, Brendan Myers, Krisdrickey, Michael Smith, druidkirk, jtel99, Ivo Dominguez, libradragonmo, Ashtore Ash, icatsnitram, nancy.batty, hernesman, Brenda.titus, Urban Haas, vegaspipistrelle, vheiderich

May your own will bring the changes you wish to see. And when it does not, may you come to know grace in a way that softens your heart.


15 responses to “Since When Were Will and Grace Pagan?”

  1. Jason Stillwagner Avatar

    the serenity prayer paraphrased;

    God grant me the will to change the things I can
    The grace to accept the things I can’t
    and the wisdom to know the difference

    just about sums it up. Though this brings up an interesting point that I will have to discuss with Ian at fall equinox.

  2. Urban Haas Avatar

    It’s a dualist mindset that one must be one or the other: will or grace. Why can’t one have both? I think your striving for the balance is the healthy path.

    We need to understand that we need not choose one thing over the other. There is likely will needed to perceive grace, grace needed to give focus and energy to will. To take one side is pure madness.

  3. B. T. Newberg Avatar
    B. T. Newberg

    >An atheist, for example, might experience grace by remembering and
    recognizing that they fit within a greater, more complicated, more
    interconnected ecosystem. Grace occurs in conjunction with that kind of

    Well said. As a naturalist (and very-nearly atheist), I couldn’t have said it better.

  4. […] comment got me thinking petitionary prayer in a whole new way.  Shortly after, Teo Bishop wrote this on his blog, which was then reblogged on the Wild […]

  5. Bookhousegal Avatar

    The way I see it, ‘grace’ is one of those words Pagans tend to shy away
    from precisely because it tends to be attached to a whole lot of
    monotheist doctrinal baggage that doesn’t quite fit: that language of
    innate badness or inadequacy,/surrender, etc etc.

    Personally, I think the ‘phenomenon’ behind the word really refers to
    the ‘freebies,’ those perhaps unasked-for blessings, gifts, helping
    hands, so to speak, certainly things one might feel *graced by* or
    *gratitude for,* …which is a different context than the idea that
    people’s ‘souls need saving’ as some inherent condition of the world or
    humanity, anyway. Which may really be the first thing Christian
    thinking goes to when someone says ‘Grace,’ …their whole goal of ‘how
    to be saved,’ etc. (Probably where the submission thing comes in,

    There *are,* I’ve pointed out, plenty of ‘salvific’ elements in and
    experiences of Pagan religion from several cultures…. (Trust me on
    that, I was hardly in the best place when *I* found myself dedicated, )
    ….it’s just that’s not our ‘central problem’ as a religious group,
    or in ‘our’ kind of woldview. For one thing, it’s *personal,* not
    something the whole world’s supposed to need at all times to escape some
    other thing or something.

    I don’t think it’s just *my* idea that it’d be bad form to run around
    ‘witnessing’ about it, …apart from all the baggage and damage that
    way from the wider culture, it’s not really what everyone actually
    *needs* and it runs into all kinds of ‘contests’ and people feeling
    left-out-abandoned-extra-broken, etc. Especially in an age where for a
    lot of people a key issue is accepting our *own* power rather than
    looking for someone or something to ‘submit’ to. (I think my own
    devotions to my Gods have a lot to do with what I consider a well-earned
    loyalty, maybe ’cause’ of grace, not *as* grace. Per se. )

    I think this is another thing that as the Pagan movement grows and
    matures, we’ve got to find ourt*own* terms and frameworks for:
    besides, like so many things, just cause it’s not ‘advertised’ doesn’t
    mean it’s not there. 🙂

    1. AnantaAndroscoggin Avatar

      Your second ¶ there, got me to wondering if all of those events of “serendipity” when I ran across things needed as references for my over sized writing project, and felt like they were meant to tell me to put my nose back to that particular grindstone, were perhaps some form of ‘grace.’

    2. Michaela Iler Avatar

      The concept of the connection between sin and grace is one that all of us have struggled with. This article touches on this a bit and I like his musings. Within our tradition, it’s hard to remember that our lady is compassionate and that our Lord Lights the way, and that its not about a misplaced focus that other religions may have gotten lost in. Grace is not a human construct designed to hold people down and keep them in their place.

      As witches (in my case) our own remembrance must be that we were not given a spirit of fear, nor do we practice a tradition of fear and that means also not being afraid of having faults, making mistakes and at the end of the day being transparent with those to self, gods and others. This also means if we apply our theology to our daily practice then we find ourselves needing to rethink our wounds of sin and condemnation given to us by our former churches. Like favoring an injury too long can bring on it’s own injury, if we build a practice based upon our wounds given to us, then we are merely creating another wound that we will have to unwind. Craft asks us to be deeply transparent and courageous in our loving, and this means learning to accept grace as a divine characteristic. And grace means, that when things are rough and we don’t do well… that the gods are not the 2×4 just waiting to tell us we did wrong. Instead they are the loving hearts that aid us when we ask, and don’t judge us when we can’t figure out how to make it all come together.

  6. AnantaAndroscoggin Avatar

    I would have to opine that “Will Alone” is probably a good description (in part) for those who foolishly believe that “Each Pagan is his/her Own Island.” Just as much as the silly American myth of the “Rugged Individualist” who needs no other people or civilization in order to get by.

    And yes, I’m only in the 10th generation of Americans born in my particular family line, stretching back to Anthony the Selectman who arrived at Strawberry Banke, NH about 1623. And many Veterans in every generation (including 2 of the first 5 born here).

  7. Apel Mjausson Avatar

    As a 12-stepper, this makes a lot of sense to me.

    Perhaps the opening words of the Serenity Prayer “Goddess, Grant me the serenity…” could also be “Goddess, Grant me the grace to accept the things I cannot change.” It then goes on as before “The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.” Or would “The Will to change the things I can” work better for some people?

    I find that my recovery work and my Pagan religion influence each other a lot.

  8. Will Dees Avatar

    Mine is a religion of Karen Walker (Anastasia Beaverhausen if we’re in public).

    It seems to me that the way in which you are using “grace” (as a personal process/reaction to events out of one’s control) is contrary to the way you use the word in this sentence: “I’m still piecing this together for myself, but I think my religion might better understood as a relationship between one’s will and one’s openness to grace.”

    In that context, “grace” comes off as something from an outside actor, like a deity; the rest of your post would indicate that “grace” works in conjunction with one’s “will” (i.e. “…might be better understood as a relationship between one’s will and one’s ability to [have/display/embody] grace”).

    This is an interesting post, and I think on a certain level I agree with you–some things are just out of our control, and it’s unhealthy to try to claim responsibility for absolutely everything that goes wrong (or right) in our lives. That path leads to shoulding on ourselves (“I should do this, I should do that” etc).

  9. […] ecosystem. Grace occurs in conjunction with that kind of humility.” – Teo Bishop, “Since When Were Will and Grace Pagan?”Beth Lynch spinning.“I am becoming more like Frigga than I would, at one time, ever have cared […]

  10. Eran Rathan Avatar

    Teo –

    I agree with Ian on this: I don’t see the idea of ‘grace’ as something necessary for one’s religious experience. Wyrd or fate or destiny – these are things that will come to pass, but can be altered by our actions – even the gods cannot escape their path.

    The Web that Has No Weaver, the Great Tapestry, whatever you call it – all of our threads of Wyrd are interconnected, and have definite beginnings and ends – but one’s actions can certainly influence the shape of the Tapestry itself, even if our Wyrd influences us in one direction or another.

    Grace, to me, is tied to an idea of powerlessness, of in essence giving up. As Ian noted, the reciprocal relationship I have with my gods is based in part on their graciousness (what I would call their obligation to be gracious in Their role as Host in the idea of Sacred Hospitality). But that doesn’t mean that I should A. take it for granted or B. be automatically deserving of it – a guest is required to be gracious as well, and not over-tax the host’s hospitality.

  11. Ian Corrigan Avatar

    Here’s what I posted on an ADF list that mentioned your post here: >In reading it I have a question for you…when you said that your religion was one of will and not of grace, how were you defining grace?< When I made the comment I was referring to the kind of doctrine that holds humans to be essentially incapable of successfully reaching for/to the divine by our own strength. Rather, in that doctrine, we must depend on the "undeserved favor" (grace) of divine thing or person. Certain flavors of Christian orthodoxy are the most stereotypical of those, but some teachings of Buddhism say that's there is nothing we can do to 'become' enlightened – we must simply work and hope. Those are the sort of doctrines I reject, in favor of viewing humans as inately able to gain in spiritual understanding, strength etc. Of course the aid of gods and spirits is a fine thing, but that's all reciprocal, not one-sided.

    When I think about the category of "things over which I have no control" I arrive at the term Fate. Fate, and fatedness, are big ideas in ancient Paganism, and difficult ones for moderns to get behind. I entirely agree that to try to shape one's world entirely by will would be doomed to fail. The world shapes itself, with or without me. My place in it is determined by the sum total of the results of the acts of all beings, which is how I define fate.

    As a polytheist I don't believe in a 'providential will' of the divine. There is no central guiding intelligence that makes things right. Things often go wrong. I depend on the blessing of the gods, but I expect my worship-bargain with them to reliably produce that blessing. It isn't simply their gracious love that allows that blessing, but a relationship which I work to maintain, and which creates mutual obligation between me and the gods.

    Now even in the worship bargain we, as mortals, depend on the graciousness (I might better say the nobility) of the gods. It is proper that each give gifts according to their wealth and might. So I make a good sacrifice, using my limited mortal means, and the gods grant a blessing that while it might seem disproportionately generous is simply the obligation of their station. This is grace of a sort, surely.

  12. Rob Henderson Avatar

    Mine is a religion of Abed, not of Jeff. Or Pierce. (Sorry I couldn’t come up with a better line, but that’s pretty much the only sitcom I watch these days.)

    Let me know if/when there’s another attempt at the CD, and I’ll be there.

  13. Valerie Avatar

    Beautifully written as usual. Don’t give up on your CD! There are a lot of independent recording companies out there that I am sure are looking for some good CD’s. Bright Blessings to you!