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Dear Sara,

Thank you for your response. It’s delightful to read about your personal experiences with all of this. You offer a soothing, yet invigorating perspective.

ashleyrosex_ Close Cross

You asked,

“What is contradictory for you personally between Christianity and Paganism…theologically, emotionally?  Does opening the door to Christianity automatically mean shutting the door to Paganism, and if so, why?

Discussing Christian theology feels, at this point, a kind of misplacement of focus. What seems to be happening to me is an emotional and perhaps even metaphysical pull towards Jesus, God and the Gospel. It’s confusing, because I’m so used to parsing out Christianity intellectually. That’s what I did the first time around. I dug in with my head, first, and then listened to my heart.

But this feels so different. It feels as though the heart is leading, and that the heart is also being led.

I can say that I feel the immediacy of God in a new way now, and I’m using language to describe that feeling of immediacy which feels rather foreign to me. I’m saying things like, “I guess God wasn’t done with me,” or “I’m feeling called back to the Church,” or “But I was already claimed by God.” These are not the kinds of things I ever said before as a Christian. These are, in fact, the kinds of statements that would make me a little squeamish when I heard other people say them. But when I say these things now I feel like I’m speaking about something that is actually happening in my life, rather than some abstract concept or idea. It feels as real and ordinary as if I were to say, “I haven’t showered yet this morning,” or “I need to put some socks on because my feet are cold.”

This doesn’t feel like zealotry, either. I feel no compulsion to start “saving” people. Not. at. all. This immediacy feels incredibly personal, and reminds me in some ways of how I’ve heard hard polytheists speak about their Gods. And they used to wig me out a little, too, when they did that. But I don’t have any beef with them now. I actually feel like I understand them in a better way, because I’m having the sense that God is working in my life somehow just as they understand their Gods to be working in theirs.

And see, this is where it gets challenging to parse things out intellectually. I’m feeling a pull to God, a comfort in the Gospel, a challenge from the example of Jesus (all of this in a very short period of time, mind you), while at the same time feeling a deep understanding and appreciation for my polytheist friends in their experience of deity. Certain Christian doctrine and thought would seem to make that impossible or completely incompatible, but not for me.

When I’ve been in church, wrapped up in the movement of the liturgy, or when I’m considering the conciseness of the Nicene Creed and Christian cosmology (at least, the one that’s painted for me in the Episcopal service), I at once recognize that this is complete and incomplete; it is all of what is necessary to inform and enrich my own human experience, and yet it is not anywhere near complete enough to incapsulate all of what is about humanity, or life on Earth, or the Universe, or God.

To try to illustrate what I mean, I’d like to refer to a post I read on Nadia Bolz-Webber’s blog a couple days ago. The post consists of her a sermon from this last Sunday on the Gospel story in Luke about the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). She illustrates the way in which Jesus flips the whole notion of righteousness on it’s head (which I’m down with). But then at the end of it she concludes the sermon by presenting a somewhat traditional understanding of Jesus as God made flesh/Redeemer/Savior to the sinners. Read it. You’ll see where it happens.

At that point I think: but if Jesus fucks with the paradigm of righteousness, saying that your virtue doesn’t earn you anything in the eyes of God (nor does your humility), isn’t asserting with certainty who Jesus is, or what his role is in relationship to the Human Condition yet another exercise in the righteousness that Jesus was defusing in the parable? Doesn’t defining the mystery destroy it? In the moment that Jesus is presented as the champion of Christianity rather than the One Who Comes to Mindfuck, through Love, the Christian paradigm seems smaller than Jesus, himself. Do you see what I mean?

A part of me would like for all of this to be simple: believe that Jesus is the son of God (or don’t), and believe that that means a very specific thing with very specific consequences and very specific edicts attached to it, and you’ll know how to live your life. But that part of me is minuscule when compared to the sense of God’s immediacy in my life at this moment. And the divine seems to care nothing about what I believe! My ability (or inability) to parse all of this out doesn’t make a difference. I still feel an awareness of God working in my life somehow.

And maybe that’s Grace. Maybe the message isn’t that “It doesn’t matter what you do, Jesus has washed your sin away,” but rather “It doesn’t matter what you do, you are swept up in the current of the Spirit… It is always already working in your life… You do not have to deserve it, or earn it, or justify yourself in the eyes of the divine… you are always already in a state of being loved.”

So I don’t know how to answer your question just yet. I don’t feel like I’m closing the door to Paganism, although I’m sure most Pagans would have a hard time believing that having read what I just wrote. But I feel like my Paganism is informing my reawakening to Christ, just as my time spent in the Church in my early 20’s informed my constant desire to subject all of my experiences in the Pagan community to a close exegesis of their function, meaning and relevance. I was always somewhat of a Christian when I was exploring Paganism, just as I am still somewhat of a Pagan as I respond to what feels like a call to return to the Church.

Sent with love from the inbetween,

Teo

devotion

What, I wonder, are the differences between a contemplative practice and a devotional practice?

I’ve read a lot about devotional polytheism this morning. I read Galina Krassova’s first installment of her Fundamentals of Polytheism series, “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Theories,” and Galina places a great deal of focus on the development of a devotional practice. Many hard-polytheists I know in ADF do a similar thing.

Even in the Solitary Druid Fellowship we have devotionals, but those devotionals (I think) are very different than the kind of devotionals that Galina might be speaking of.

The first half of the SDF’s Morning Devotional reads like this:

I am one and we are many. Fellowship, in solitude.
Here I stand to greet the sun
And welcome in the morning light.

In my mind and in my body,
I hold space in solitude
For all of those who walk alone.
May they find comfort on this day.

And may the day unfold in peace,
And may this peace be born within,
And may my heart be set ablaze,
That I might shine into the world.

This is not language which supports a devotional practice with a specific deity, per se. This devotional is humanistic in nature. It centers around the human experience. When I wrote this devotional it seemed like the only way to create something that would be relevant and usable to solitaries of many different paths was to focus on what would be meaningful to the person, rather than focus on what one person (or tradition) thinks is meaningful to a god.

That said, ADF’s cosmology is present in the devotional:

I honor this fire.
The fire of the gods.
The gods of my heart.
The gods of this land.
May I come to know the mystery
Of the divine in all its forms.

I honor this water.
The water of the ancestors.
Ancestors of blood.
Ancestors of spirit.
May I understand the knowledge
Of the wise and ancient ones.

I honor this tree.
This living body.
This sacred plant,
With roots and leaves.
May I feel the spirits of nature,
And be one with all the earth.

This language is heavily symbolic, and open to interpretation. For some, “the gods of my heart” is too general. Or, perhaps it is inaccurate to their understanding of what the gods are or how they function. To me, this language makes space for the archetypalist and the hard polytheist, for either might use the idea of a “place in one’s heart” as a sign of deep connection and devotion. The rest of the language seeks to put one in a state of awareness and mindfulness of their ancestors and the living earth that surrounds them.

But again, it’s all about the awareness and interpretation of the individual.

The SDF’s use of devotionals seeks to ground people in their own conscious practice, not to place them in “right relationship” with the gods in any particular way. My intention was not to dictate to anyone what “right relationship to the gods” might even mean, but to instead trust that if they first sink into a deep and meaningful practice (even one that lacks a clear focus on any specific deity), that they will be led to the spiritual awareness that is most appropriate for them. They might come to know what value the concept of “right relationship” has in their own life and practice.

Perhaps, then, a contemplative practice can spring forth from a devotional practice if one makes the space for a certain degree of unknowing.

Galina emphasizes the importance of knowing in the context of her practice, and while she distinguishes that experience of knowing from “faith,” the two still look similar from where I sit.

To me, the statement “I have faith that the Gods are real” would be more compelling than “The Gods are real,” if for no other reason but that the former emphasizes the human element, while the latter does not.

I love the human element. I have to begin with the human element first, and from that place open up to something beyond my field of vision.

And that’s just where my temperament leads me. It isn’t to say that I’m correct, or that Galina is not. There is, I think we’d both agree, a distinct difference in what we do in our religious lives — and why we do it.

But regardless of our differences, there may be some common ground in emphasizing the value of a devotional practice. We may have different ideas that inform why we think a devotional practice is important — hers’ being that it beings the devotee in right relationship with the Gods, and mine being that it encourages contemplation — but we might be able to agree that one grows in their religious and spiritual life by doing things, just as much (if not more) than by simply thinking things.

And for me, contemplation is right action.

 

John Halstead doesn’t mess around. When he writes, he means business.

Just read his exposition on the most recent explosion of discussion and debate among Pagans and polytheists over superheroes and gods and you’ll know what I mean.

John has a tremendous intellect, and when he writes on Allergic Pagan about the in’s and out’s of theology and praxis he uses that intellect to shed light on the intricacies of what we Pagans, polytheists or non-identified pagan-like-folk do.

When John writes, I listen.

So I took notice when I read the term, “soul-centered” in the list of links at the bottom of his superhero post. I followed the link and found the 3rd of a three-part series from June of 2012 on his evolving sense of Pagan identity entitled, Soul-Centered Paganism.

I read it, and something in me hollered out,

YES!

This.

Work with this.

John doesn’t outline a system for what soul-centered Paganism might look like in practice, but he does provide this useful venn diagram. (And don’t we all love those?)

john halstead - 3-centers-revised3

 

But even without a full breakdown of how soul-centered Paganism might function in practical terms, he does unpack how the term came into existence and how it may be able to connect the earth-centered and Self-centered (or Self-centric) expressions within Paganism:

The writings of Carl Jung, James Hillman, Theodore Roszak (who coined the term “eco-psychology”), and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin, have helped me reconcile these two paths — at least theoretically.  From these authors, I have developed a conception of nature and psyche which tries to overcome the dualism inherent in traditional understandings of these concepts.

Conceptually, I understand nature and psyche (or soul) as two different perspectives on the same thing.  Step one is to propose that “nature” includes not only our physical bodies, but also that thing which we call mind, including consciousness and the unconscious.  That is a proposition, I think, that would be easy for most religious naturalists to accept.

Step two is to reverse the principle: Just as nature extends “within” to include the psyche, so psyche extends “without” to include nature.  James Hillman describes psyche (soul), not as something inside of us, but as something that we are “inside” of.  Psyche extends beyond our individual mind to include other people and all of nature.  Hence, Hillman can speak of “a psyche the size of the earth”.

Bill Plotkin calls this ecopsychological perspective a “soul-centered” approach.  A “soul-centered” Paganism can potentially combine the earth-centric drive to connect to the more-than-human world with the Self-centric search for greater wholeness, the two being facets of the same drive.  From the “soul-centered” perspective, both earth-centered and Self-centered Paganism seek a transcendence of the ego and a transpersonal wholeness.

(emphasis mine)

John, admittedly, doesn’t flush out much of how a deity-centric perspective is factored into it the soul-centered model, but that doesn’t bother me. There’s time for that, I think. What I’m most interested in is the way in which this mediation on perspective (as it relates to the psyche/soul and to nature) brings with it a new, nuanced perspective on the meaning of relationship.

So much of the discussion I’ve seen about “right relationship” with the gods uses the term “relationship” in very much the way that one might speak of a relationship with a human being (or, a being that, while not human, behaves in similar ways that a human might behave). In this way, one “develops relationship,” or “works on their relationship” with the divine. (Some Christians use a similar language when they talk about having a “personal relationship with God.”)

But when you start to wrap your imagination around relationship as something more spacial or dynamic, like the relationship between notes on a scale or frequencies within a spectrum of sound, there is this thing that (at least for me) happens in the mind.

It’s a kind of breaking open.

That and the term, “psyche the size of the earth” — what are the implications of that? Is that not a language of interconnectedness that is worth greater exploration?

John continues that,

Jung wrote that we need to “reconcile ourselves to the mysterious truth that the spirit is the life of the body seen from within, and the body the outward manifestation of the life of the spirit – the two being really one”.  I understand “nature” to be psyche seen from without and “psyche” to be nature seen from within.  Thus, “nature” is everything inside and out of me when viewed from an objective perspective, whereas “psyche” is everything inside and outside of me when viewed from a subjective perspective.

(emphasis mine)

Again, my brain go break.

For anyone who wants to suggest that the application of one’s intellect necessarily leads one away from spiritual awakening or divine knowledge, I’d have them spend some time in meditation with John’s work. His process is thorough, his conclusions are reasonable, and yet he never makes the mistake of asserting that he has uncovered THE truth about a thing.

His practice is, in part, his process.

As I said, John chose not to articulate how deity-centric thought and practice might intersect with these other two categories for the formation of a soul-centered Paganism. He writes in the comments of his post that

As I was writing though, it did occur to me that all three “centers” are seeking a connection to some form of “otherness”: earth-centered types find this otherness in nature; Self-centered types find it in the deep (personal) psyche; and I think deity-centered types seek it in deities which are conceived as literally other. My problem with the deity-centered approach is that, as I understand it, it places that otherness outside of nature, or at least outside of natural phenomena — which is a problem from my naturalistic perspective — and outside of the Self — which is a problem from my post-Christian perspective.

Must the deity-centered approach place the “otherness” with which we may be seeking a connection outside of nature or the Self? Is there a way to understand or unpack the position of deity as a “natural phenomena” that allows an understanding of the divine that is interwoven with our experience of the soul and nature?

I’m not sure I have the answer to those questions. But for now, I’m borrowing this term, soul-centered, as a way of understanding my own Paganism. Add to that my inclination toward contemplation as a spiritual practice, and I think you may have the making of the “what I am” that I was seeking to identify in my last post.

Photo by Chris

Photo by Chris

I am not a Christian, but I have no problem with placing love at the center of my religious ideology.

(That I should feel the need to qualify the centrality of love with an “I am not” statement is notable.)

When I check in with my desire, my deepest yearning, I discover love. It’s there, simple and quiet; steady and ready to be known.

The word, as many wiser people than I have observed, is overused in the English language. When I say “love” you might think of love as romance, adoration, longing, friendship or lust.

Do you love your car? Do you love your husband? Do you love your new phone? Do you love the land? The Gods? Yourself?

In each of these cases, the word is used quite differently. Isn’t it?

Photo by Chris

Photo by Chris

So what does it mean that my deepest yearning, my True Desire, is love?

I don’t know how to answer that question.

While I’m perfectly comfortable with writing that “love is at the center of my religious ideology,” I don’t know exactly what that means.

I was raised a Christian. I’ve written about that in many places. I also came into my own as a young adult within a Christian community. One could easily ascertain that my emphasis on love is a holdover from my earlier tradition. The Christians planted the love seed, and the tree continues to grow — even if it is decorated with Pagan symbols now.

Perhaps that is true. For certain, it is reductive.

I don’t think that Christians have the patent on love. It wasn’t born two thousand years ago, and it isn’t contained exclusively in the pages of the Good Book. It is bigger than any one tradition.

Photo by Franny Lane

Photo by Franny Lane

But how do we talk about love in a Pagan context? Can we place it at the center of our religious ideologies — or our spiritual practices, if that feels more comfortable to you — while retaining a sense of identity in our tradition.

For that matter, is it reasonable to expect that we do such a thing?

I’ve met people who seem to care little about love in a broad or theological sense, but a lot about love for their tribe. The boundaries are clear to them. You have it for some, but you don’t necessarily have it for others. There is an inside (where love is given), and there is an outside (from which you protect yourself).

And it’s not just Pagans or polytheists who do this. There are Christians who think of love in this way. There are Muslims who think of love in this way. There are people in every religious tradition who think of love as something that is given to only a few select people.

Tribalism is tribalism, no matter how you dress it up.

So, again, what does it mean that love is at the center of my religious ideology?

I still don’t know.

There are a few things that I am clear about:

  • I care for people. I care about their well being. This care sometimes is experienced as love, and this love is given to people I know very well and people I don’t know well at all. I consider myself a servant of my community, and I have great love for those who I serve.
  • I am in love with my husband. Madly. Over the past several weeks a new fire has ignited between us. Seven years we have been together, and somehow — amazingly — we are discovering each other in completely new ways. In him, I know love.
  • I feel a profound sense of love when I do ritual. This love feels like it’s coming from something on the edges of myself, pouring inward. I felt this at the PantheaCon Morrígan ritual (which continues to work its way into my skin). I have felt it every time I performed a Solitary Druid Fellowship High Day ritual. Love — some primal, essential kind of love — is present with me in those moments.

So it’s interesting to me that I start off this post with a need to clarify how this centrality of love is not Christian. My disclaimer makes me aware that I haven’t had much cause (or opportunity) to talk much about love since I became a Pagan.

And why is that?

How is it that something that can be so intrinsic to me (and I presume to others) can be a subject that doesn’t come up much in my religious community? Is it that we don’t have a context for talking about love? Are we convinced that love wasn’t that important in the Old Ways, and — more importantly — are we satisfied with that conclusion?

Or, are we afraid that if we talk about love in connection with our religious lives that we might start sounding too Christian?

Where does love fit into Pagan and polytheist traditions?

Top of the week to you!

BW Teo Bishop square

This week is starting off with a whole bunch of Internet happenings.

First, it seems that my RSS Email subscribers haven’t been receiving my blog posts since mid-December. Sorry everyone.

Here’s what you missed:

Star says goodbye to “Pagan”

Star Foster

Star Foster

Star Foster is no longer identifying as Pagan.

For some, this news may hold little relevance. People identify as they choose, right? But Star has held a rather prominent position in the Pagan media, and she’s done a lot to champion the voices of many Pagan writers (including myself). She’s done much to initiate conversation (sometimes heated) within the Pagan community, and she’s continuing that tradition with this announcement.

I posted a link to Star’s coming out on Facebook, and now there is a HUGE discussion going on around the post. I encourage you to pop over and read through the comments and respond there. I would summarize them here, but as of writing this post there are nearly 100 comments. It’s tremendous.

The timing of Star’s announcement, and the subsequent dialogue popping up on my FB post, is rather interesting. Heather Greene has posted the first in a two-part series on The Wild Hunt about “Pagan solidarity,” asking whether or not Pagans can support one another as a community, and if it is important to be a united body. In her second post she’ll be unpacking whether or not this kind of unity leads to religious institutionalism.

I wonder if the idea of “Pagan solidarity” is even approachable if the identity of “Pagan” is becoming less tenable. I may blog about this in the coming days on The Wild Hunt, but first I’d like to see how this conversation continues to evolve.

The Solitary Druid Fellowship, and Devotionals

SDF Square LogoLastly, the work at the Solitary Druid Fellowship is going splendidly. The first High Day ritual was a great success, with about 450 people receiving the first SDF liturgy, and many joining in a dialogue about their experiences.

You can read about people’s experiences with the liturgy, and see the group interpretations of the SDF omen in our crowd-sourced Google doc.

There is also a new service provided by SDF — daily devotionals. The first morning devotional was published over the weekend, and more are coming soon. One solitary participant in SDF has already used the devotional and written about it on her blog.

I’m happy to see that people are using this shared liturgical practice to enrich their personal religious lives!

That’s all for today. Happy reading, everyone!

Since I began working through the Dedicant Path this second time, I’ve run across a number of people who are also starting their studies with ADF. They’re showing up in the comment section on Bishop In The Grove, on Facebook, and I’m wondering if there’s some deeper meaning behind it.

A friend of mine suggested that we should distrust the Volkswagen Bug syndrome. You know — the one where you buy a VW bug, and then all you see around you are VW bugs. They start popping up everywhere — in parking lots, next to you while driving on the freeway, trailing you home from your knitting class…

…that last one isn’t part of the lore. It just came to me.

You know what I’m talking about, though. You make some change to your life, and then you see that change reflected in the world around you.

If I was an adherent to a popular New Age theory like The Secret (which my husband calls “The Trick”), I might say that this is the Universe providing me what I asked for. Although, it would seem a bit more like the Universe on overdrive, wouldn’t it? How many VW bugs does one guy need?

Photo by Marty Desilets

This search for the source of the repeating VW — or the new wave of ADF Dedicants — may be fruitless. If it’s the Universe, there’s no good way to trace that. Same goes for the gods.

Right?

In the comment section of my last post people went to town explaining their relationship to Pagan and metaphysical stuff. It was eye-opening.

I’m reminded of one comment now.

“On the one hand, I fully agree with the idea that Pagans collect too much stuff….On the other hand, what if it’s what the gods demand of us?”

How do we know (he asks with no clear answer) if the gods are encouraging us to buy that fancy wand or that new “mysterious” crystal skull? How do we discern the meaning behind the multiplying VW’s and Druids?

Perhaps that word — discernment — is a key to unlocking some of this.

Photo by Jef Safi

A quick search for the meaning of discernment reveals this (the secondary definition):

(in Christian contexts) Perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding

  • – without providing for a time of healing and discernment, there will be no hope of living through this present moment without a shattering of our common life

Why, I wonder, is this labeled as “in Christian contexts”?

The Christian context for discernment assumes that you’re listing to the One True God, but if he isn’t your Mr. Right you’re going to be listening for something, or someone else.

Many a Pagan turns to divination for answers, and perhaps for them divination is the Pagan version of discernment. But, for those who divine as a way of listening to the gods (or the dead, or the spirits of place), isn’t there a teensy-weensy bit of discernment involved in that process? Don’t you have to suspend your judgement — or, at least your immediate, knee-jerk, influenced-by-your-cultural-conditioning-and-prejudices judgement in order to tap into the knowledge of something other than yourself — something non-human?

In my ADF studies, I’m doing a lot of book work. I’m also being called to do a lot of personal reflection. In reflection, an act of seeing inward, there is an auditory component. There is inner-listening.

I think “inner-listening” might be another way to think of discernment.

The question is, listening for what?

Your personal truth? The voice of Demeter? The advice of your dead great-grandmother?

Discernment is nuanced in the Christian world. It points to a personal relationship with deity, and when I’ve heard it used it was done so with seriousness and sensitivity. You don’t just hear God without freaking out a little, or without having to go through a process of trying to figure out — did I just hear God?

So what about discernment outside of the Christian context? I have this strong feeling (perhaps I’m discerning something) that there is a place for discernment in the religious lives of polytheists and Pagans.

So, what is that place?

What is the use of discernment in your life?

Sometimes I think there’s a good reason for blind faith, religious ignorance, unwavering piety. Sometimes those seem like a much easier choices than being inquisitive, being contemplative, being patient with your own uncertainty.

The dialogue around the last post extended deep into the theoretical as well as the practical, even spawning an interesting offshoot post on ecological polytheism, and a resurgence of questions about an American goddess named Columbia.

The explosion of ideas did a number on me. I didn’t realize that it had until I tried to approach my shrine this morning and perform my daily ritual. I couldn’t turn my brain off, and I kept wondering — But who am I making these offerings to, exactly? What is the point of this thing that I’m doing?

This quick-shift back to a state of doubt and questioning might come off to some as a sign of an adolescent faith. But if that’s true, what’s the alternative? A religious practice or paradigm that is no longer close-examined? A fixed piety? If that’s the case, then perhaps the people who are unwilling to engage in a discussion about the nature of the gods (or God, if that be their god), the origin of divinity, or any other such complicated subject simply have it easier. Their religious tradition can grow without the tampering of every little question, every “wait but....”

Clearly, though, I cannot be comfortable with such a religious tradition.

I question. I always have. If there’s anything about me that’s fixed, perhaps it’s that.

Some people suggested that my difficulty in conceiving of how a god might have a human origin is a holdover from some part of my Christianity, and that it may be the lingering perception of God’s infallibility that is making it difficult for me to imagine myself (or anyone I’ve ever known) as being one day thought of as a god. Fallibility or infallibility didn’t even enter into my mind when I wrote that post, though. The question wasn’t whether or not gods are, by nature, infallible, omnipotent, omnipresent, or any of the other descriptives of the Christian god, and the fact that those concepts were thrown into the mix only confused things for me.

If there was any holdover from the Christian tradition of my past, it may have been that they conceived of God as being responsible for, or an undercurrent to all of what exists. Let me repeat that: all of what exists. I’m well aware that this is not how Pagans conceive of gods, but consider for a moment the (perceived) difference in magnitude between a deity which is understood to be the origin of all creation, and a deity that, in the future, will once have been me.

You see what I’m saying? Different scale, right?

On one level this is all theoretical, but on another it is not. This information, these questions, they had an impact on how I approached my shrine today. They affect how I proceed in participating in my religion, and how I prepare myself to be in dialogue with people from other traditions. None of this seems trivial to me.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus asked in the comments:

“Is it that you worry that you’ll be “mistaken” for a god, with the implication that you’re not and likely never could be; or, that you’ll be recognized as a god, and what that could mean about your own potentials now and the responsibilities you might have in the future that you’re not comfortable with? In other words, not that it’s a mistake to recognize you as a god in the future, but instead that it’s a mistake to not recognize your own divinity?

(emphasis added)

These words are messy. The food won’t stay in its own little compartment, and all of a sudden the divine peas are mixing with the divine meatloaf, and I’m not sure what divinity is even supposed to taste like anymore.

Semantics, people say dismissively when I get worked up in one of these states. But these semantics are rearranging my furniture, and I’m not sure where to sit or stand at the moment.

Help?

When you find yourself uncertain about the definitions, the functions, the meanings or the purpose, what do you do? If religious ritual is the thing that centers you, but it is also the thing which is informed by the very stuff you’re questioning, what do you do?

Should I make offerings to the future me-god for some guidance?

In a recent discussion with a group of Pagans about the development of an American pantheon for use in ADF ritual, someone said this:

“When we look at historical evidence to find the ancient deities, we look at what was left behind and what survived for long periods of time, such as the stories that remained popular … These and many other things help us to form a picture of the beliefs of an ancient culture. I’m using the same types of techniques to examine our modern culture … Elvis is a good example.”

I don’t want to be mistaken for a god.

What if in some distant future, one populated by a new batch of revisionist or reconstructionist Pagans, there is an idea that the celebrities we follow in the present day, the politicians we support, the cultural figures we align ourselves with, were deities?

What if between now and a thousand years from now all of the precious archiving we do of our daily lives, through our blogs, through Twitter, or through the old-fashioned paper medium is lost, and as people are looking back to uncover what we were like they make a profound mistake when they stumble across a tiny piece of information about my life (or yours), and misperceive me (or you) to have been, not a person, but a god of some sort?

Perhaps you wouldn’t mind. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing for some future Pagan (who I’m sure would be called something other than “Pagan”) looked back at the trace evidence of you and decided to make statues of your likeness, chant your name before pouring oil onto a fire, tattoo your mug onto their shoulder to let everyone know just who their god is. Would you be into that? Does that idea sit well with you?

Let me repeat that I do not want to be mistaken for a god.

At the very least, it would seem terribly inaccurate to me, because I know who I am. I am rooted in my humanity. I am also someone who has been in close proximity to a great deal of celebrity in his life, and I can guarantee you that celebrities are also rooted in their humanity. I get wigged out when modern celebrities are elevated to near deific status in the eyes of the public, and I’m even more troubled by the thought that they might one day, in that far off future, be completely mistaken for gods.

None of this seems like a problem if we’re willing to conceive of the gods as archetypes or ideas that affirm something about ourselves. The stories about humans can morph into stories about gods, and those gods can inform future humans about their own humanity. Through learning about our true, albeit fictional selves, the future Pagans learn something valuable about their own identities.

I’m down with that.

But hard polytheism makes it tricky.

If you or I become a god one day, and people worship us at their shrines and make prayers to us in their moments of need, hard polytheism says that you and I will be cognizant of that. We may even respond by granting their request. If the future reconstructionists do their homework, they’ll know that I like tortillas, coffee, hard cider and pineapple cake with cream cheese icing, and they will prepare such offerings when they want me to — what? — help them with a creative project, guide them on their travels, or — me forbid — change the weather. We will fall into their correspondence charts, and people will write songs about how amazing we were. Tuesday might even become Teo’sday…. or they may suggest that it was always Teo’sday.

I joke a little here, but mainly because I feel uncomfortable by the problems this introduces. I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas, and I worry that if they’re allowed to play themselves out all the way they will eventually call into question much of my current conception of deity.

So, I present them to you in the hopes that you might be able to offer up some fresh perspective.

Do you find any of this troubling? Would you mind much if people in the future venerated you as a deity, or does that idea lead you to reexamine the way you conceive of deity?

Last week I asked, “Where does compassion belong among Pagans and Polytheists?” Beneath this first question there is another, more relevant question; one that has been nagging at me for several days:

What is the point of your religion?

I think this is a valuable inquiry, and no one has asked me this just yet. Yesterday I enrolled at Marylhurst University, the first step in a course of study that I hope will one day lead to a Masters of Divinity. I trust that during that course of work someone would be inclined to ask this question.

Why do we do what we do? What does our tradition provide us in the way of making the world we live in, the communities we build, the people that we care for, better? More importantly, how does it inform our capacity to love, our ability to experience joy, or, for that matter, our willingness to stand with the full spectrum of human experience? Is our religion pacifying us, or challenging us to go deeper?

Many people responded to my post about compassion with the statement that they, too, felt this subject had been missing from conversations in their community, which leads me to wonder what people are talking about. I think about the Christians I’ve known, and the Christian communities that I’ve been a part of, and I remember countless times when the conversation would move toward a closer examination of the meaning of compassion, the power of our intentions, the relationship between our choices and the well-being of those around us. These conversations, as I remember them, were not laden with guilt, judgement or biblical references, and they had a kind of immediacy that I was electrifying to me. Our religion was, for us, a call to full presence in the world; being a Christian was a call to accountability to the world I was living in.

And now here I am, a Pagan, no longer a part of Christian community, still searching for that same sense of immediacy, that same urgent need to be present to the world and accountable to something larger than myself.

I can only conclude from all of this that there is some undercurrent of morality, or ethics, or a need for “right action” that is pulling at me, and that it matters little whether or not I call myself a Christian, a Pagan, or a Druid. There is something human about this quest. I heard the Dalai Lama on the radio today, and he said that first and foremost he was a human being. He said that, and I think that if someone who is as revered as him can recognize the value in placing ones humanity first and their cultural and religious framework second, then perhaps I should be willing to do so as well.

I feel like there has to be a greater purpose to our religious traditions than providing us with a sense of security, comfort, and personal or cultural validation. We get trapped in our identities, and we build walls around ourselves. I think we want clarity around whether we are Pagan, Polytheist, Christian, or some other such invention, in order to better insulate ourselves from one another. We want to be right, we fear being vulnerable, and we use our religions to protect ourselves.

But what if our religions encouraged us to reach outward, to seek commonalities, to see less distinction between human beings? What if our religions began with the premise that we were all connected, and that we were all worthy of respect, compassion, and love, and that we were each capable of providing those things to one another? What if there was a way to approach this kind of universality without any need to squabble about whose deity is best, who’s laws are true, and who’s cosmology is most relevant?

I wonder what that religion would look like.

My hope is that through the dialogue on this blog, and hopefully during my course of study at Marylhurst, that we might take a closer look at our human experiences, and in the process of doing so uncover something universal within our singularity; that we might dig into our own sacred subjectivity, and throw aside our need to be right. There is no reward in having all the answers; there is only value in learning how to ask better questions.

So with that, I begin.

What is the point of your religion? What tools does it provide to you? Does it equip you for defense or for outreach? Does it lead you to question, or does it encourage you to rest in your knowing?

I look forward to hearing your insights, your experiences, and your perspective!

I’m having a hard time with compassion.

So far, I’ve developed a daily ritual at my altar, I’ve reconciled (for the time being) my differences with my Christianity, I’m working to hold the tension between my Druid Revival leanings and my ADF approach, and all of that feels good. I feel like I’m developing a balanced, sincere, honorable religious practice.

And yet, I’m uncertain about compassion.

By saying that I’m uncertain about compassion I don’t mean to imply that I don’t feel compassion, or that I’m uncertain of how to show compassion. It’s more that I’m not sure how I incorporate compassion into my practice. This subject hasn’t come up much in my Pagan studies, and I’m not really sure why.

We Pagans and Polytheists concern ourselves a great deal with orthopraxy, or right action. We discussion belief from time to time, but mainly as it relates to what we do. In light of this, I think we are actually well suited to explore the subject of compassion.

Compassion, as I see it, is all about the doing. It is about right action in relationship to another person or living thing. Compassion speaks to a quality of interaction, and as I understand it, arises from a place of empathy. We act with compassion by seeking to understand, relate to, and care for another person, exactly where they are in that moment. In this way, compassion can be seen as a practice similar to a daily ritual at one’s altar, except that the opportunity to show compassion is present every time we connect with another person.

Compassion is not a solitary act; it is an act of communing.

Just before bed last night, I read a post by my colleague, Star Foster, in which she announced that she would be taking a brief hiatus from blogging. I also read a rather heated and uncomfortable debate between Star and her readership, followed by a flurry of posts about the exchange on Facebook. Everyone was worked up, and many were downright angry.

I’m not taking sides on the matter, because I don’t think that would be helpful. What I will say is that what is evident in the argument that unfolded around her original post, and the situation that Star describes in her Sabbatical post are indications that we are in dire need to have a discussion about compassion and what it means in our interactions with one another.

The internet, by and large, has not proven to be a haven for compassion. We all know this. We engage in social networks from a place of relative isolation, and in the process we practice a kind of inauthentic, calculated transparency. Our profile pics are not our genuine faces, and our text-voice is not our voice-voice. When we communicate online, we are interacting with something that only resembles a part of a complete person. I wonder if in recognizing this fact we give ourselves permission to be meaner than we would if a person was sitting across from us. Perhaps compassion feels multidimensional, whereas the internet presents us all as two-dimensional characters. I don’t know.

But I do know that I was upset by the intensity and insensitivity of the language that followed Star’s posts. I like Star, with all of her feistiness. I also know and like many of the people who responded to her, and I trust that they are equally as capable of compassion as she is.

In thinking about this, I had to acknowledge my own inability to convey and express compassion. My first draft of this post was quite righteous, and I’m afraid was devoid of any compassion whatsoever. Ironic, no? In my own quest to call out others for their lack of compassion, I experienced a lack of compassion. Why would that be so?

I have many questions. I would like to know if compassion could be a guiding principle in our interaction with one another, and if we might allow it to come more to the forefront of our minds. When we find ourselves being caddy with one another, or hateful, or when we use our language to shut one another down in conversation, I wonder if we might take a moment to ask ourselves if there is a more compassionate way of acting.

I could be the most pious, most devout, most respected person in the world (or at least, in my corner of the blogosphere), but if I don’t practice compassion with the people I come into contact with what is my piety worth? Perhaps it’s worth something to the Gods I worship, but I’m not living in a world populated exclusively by my Gods. Everybody else is here too, and you are all deserving of my compassion.

I would like to see compassion become a point of discussion in our community. I would like to see us discuss with a calm, self-reflective, gentle voice how we can be more compassionate with one another. I could imagine us searching through our histories, both mythological and ordinary, for examples of compassion-in-action, and holding up those mythological and historical figures who exemplify compassion as being worthy of special recognition.

And, I’d like us to think of compassion as an act of magick, as though our clear, concise choice to use our faculties and will to respond to our fellow human being with care and kindness is mystical in nature.

Could we conceive of compassion as a magickal practice?

If we are a people concerned with religious orthopraxy – right action in relation to the Gods – what would happen if we began to think of compassion for one another as a king of social orthopraxy – right action in relationship to one another? How might that change things?

What are your thoughts on compassion?

Pagans hate generalizations made about Pagans (he writes with a smirk).

That’s one generalization I feel confident in making.

In my last post I made some bold statements about the unwillingness of Pagans to accept the existence of the Christian god, knowing full well that those statements were not completely accurate (or, perhaps even close to accurate). I did so in order to get the conversation started, and I recognize that there are better ways to initiate dialogue. Many of my readers let me know as much. I’m grateful to those of you who spoke up, and I thank you for your willingness to call “bullshit.”

What I also failed to mention was that my post was informed by the current controversy around Dominionism, and its corresponding backlash from the Pagan community. If you aren’t already familiar with what’s got the Witches, Druids, and Asatru abuzz throughout the blogosphere, click here, here or here for some backstory.

All of my literary shortcomings aside, there were some interesting ideas written in response to my post, and I’d like to unpack a few of them now and gauge whether you are in agreement with them or not. Let’s see if if we can keep the dialogue going, shall we?

“It is impossible for an unreasonable person to be a reasonable person.”

Themon, an OBOD Bard and regular contributor to the comments at Bishop In The Grove, made this statement, saying that there is no way to have interfaith dialogue with an unreasonable person.

I asked my 16 year old step-kid if this was a true statement during a mind-breaking batch of geometry homework.

“Um… if it’s a given that the person is unreasonable, then yes — that’s true,” the wunderkind said with one lifted eyebrow and a shrug. Silly stepdads and their philosophical questions.

I wonder what we might consider to be “reasonable” when it comes to theology and religion. Some would argue that the whole subject is a bunch of hooey. Others, like the Dominionists, might argue that only their particular viewpoint is reasonable, and if you don’t believe them just ask their god… he’ll totally back them up.

Themon goes on to write,

“I think the only real prerequisite to interfaith dialogue is mutual respect. It’s reasonable to ask to be treated with respect. It’s reasonable for them to want to be treated with respect.”

This seems fair to me.

Mrs. B. Confesses

Mrs. B., the beloved blogger at Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom chimed in with a statement about the way that she perceives Deity:

“I work under the idea that all Gods are one God and that s/he comes to everyone in the guise that is best for that person at any given moment.  I can say that my Catholic husband feels much the same way.”

Fascinating idea, really. So relational. I find the though of divinity this fluid and accommodating, this concerned with where I am at the moment of contact, to be very comforting.

Mrs. B. isn’t the only one who’s struck a theological balance in an interfaith marriage.

Literata writes about her Catholic husband,

“My spouse’s way of understanding polytheism is to think of different deities as different metaphors for what is fundamentally the same thing. It’s rather like the idea of aspects – “All goddesses are one goddess,” in Dion Fortune’s words.”

I know that many Pagans hold a different view; that each God or Goddess possesses his or her own individual consciousness. To some, the idea of “aspects” betrays something true about the individuality of the Gods. Personally, I lean more in this direction, but I also am attracted to the idea of one god with many faces.

Perhaps somewhere in between these two polarities exists some common ground between Pagans and Christians.

Or…

“There is no midway point in beliefs between paganism and Christianity.”

Perhaps the strongest tone found in any of the comments came from Kenneth, an active contributor to the conversations at various Patheos blogs. If what he says is true, I’m not sure where that leaves me – a person who feels compelled to find a thread of continuity between the tradition of my youth (Episcopal Christianity) and the tradition that resonates with me now (Neo-Pagan Druidry).

Kenneth continues,

“We will not create a good space for dialogue by looking for commonality of beliefs. What we can do is to try to respect the depth and authenticity of each other’s beliefs.”

I appreciate this statement. Ultimately, I think that’s what I’m striving for in the dialogue created on this blog. I would like to see more Christians voicing in about the way that their perspective of Deity informs the conversations they have with Pagans. I’d like to hear how a polytheist conceives of “spiritual unity,” or if that phrase is too ambiguous or not resonant in any way. I’d like to hear from folks outside of these two categories, too. I’m interested — fascinated, really — by the spiritual experiences of human beings, and I’m seeking to synthesize what I learn from you with what I feel in my heart, in my head, in my body.

The intention I’ve set for Bishop In The Grove, a blog initially started to chart my course through the ADF Dedicant Path, is to create a space for dialogue. We each bring our unique voice to the conversation, and we are all both teacher and student for one another.

 

If any of these ideas have inspired you, or if you’d like to weigh in on what I’ve written here, please do so in the comment section. If you’d like to help me broaden the discussion even further, you can share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or by e-mailing it to a friend.

 

Pagans don’t want to accept the possibility that the Christian god is real. Doing so might open us up to a diatribe about salvation, our inherent sinfulness, or our “need for conversion”. We’ve had that talk a time or two, and – thank you – we’ll pass.

Christians are of the “One and Only God” camp. Not two. Not many. Not Columbia (probably not a god) or Thor (totally a god) or any of the other “false” gods. They aren’t having the conversation about how their god relates to other gods. It’s just God. Just the One.

This may not be a problem, except we’re all sharing space; physical and virtual. We’re walking the same streets, paying the same taxes, trolling the same Internet.

We just don’t know how to talk to each other.

A Math Problem

If Pagans or polytheists could concede that God, the Christian god, did in fact exist, but that this god was a part of a much more diverse and populated pantheon than what the Christians imagine, think how that would that affect the conversation. It would be disarming on one hand, and completely challenging on the other. The “One God” could have a place in the conversation — perhaps not at the head of the table, but certainly in the room — but there would be a new context; a new forum for telling our stories.

The problem here is that the emphasis on the “One” is so central to the Christian faith. Well, except when it’s 3-in-1, or One with a side of Mary. (No hate, Catholics. I think Mary’s pretty swell.) Christians can’t engage with Pagans in a dialogue about deity without first denying the primary tenet of their faith, the first line of their creed — “We believe in One God.”

I may be wrong, though.

My post, The Christo-Pagan Conflict, continues to stir up comments from Pagans and Christians alike, the most recent of which was from an anonymous writer who said simply,

I’m a progressive, emergent Christian with many pagan friends whom I enjoy and respect.

So, there are some Christians who have found a balance; who have discovered a way to respect their Pagan friends, and presumably their expressions of faith and practice, while still preserve their own Christian identity.

Of course, a self-identified “progressive, emergent Christian” is a far cry from a Dominionist.

Oh Bloody ‘ell.

Dominionist are all awash with the blood of Jesus, saying things like “We release the power of blood-covered light over you,” or, “We release perfect Blood-covered love into the core of your being!”

Um…gross?

There is value in drawing a distinction between the progressives and the crazies. I’d imagine the friendly Christians would appreciate if. There are Christians out there who aren’t chucking Bibles or Jesus Blood from behind the bushes, and who really don’t feel the need to thrust their god onto you, me, or the local High Priestess. Their understanding of their god may inform the way they talk about the mysteries of life (i.e., the soul or the spirit, where we come from, where we’re going to, how we are all connected), but they’ve got a grip on the basics of civility. And isn’t that enough for us? Do we need them to believe in many gods, or just to respect and make space for our inclination to do so?

Perhaps there are concessions to be made. Maybe Pagans could accept the Christian god, but recontextualize him (either just to ourselves or in dialogue with others). Maybe we could be open to the mystical, mythological person of Jesus — deity or human — who unlike the blood font that’s presented by the Dominionists actually serves as an example of compassion, kindness and restoration from brokenness. The question is, can we do that without feeling that our own cosmologies and belief systems are being threatened?

If you’ve got an answer to any of these questions, please share it in the comments. I’d love to get some feedback on this subject. And, if you think your Facebook or Twitter friends might have something to say, I’d be grateful if you shared the post with them, too.

Pass The Fortune Cookie

Over dinner at a Chinese restaurant, my husband, a practitioner of the intuitive arts (a.k.a. a Psychic) told it to me straight– as straight as a gay man could tell it. He talked to GOD – the one that the Monotheists worship – and GOD told him things that most Monotheists (and a number of Polytheists) would gawk at. GOD, it seems, is misunderstood.

He paused from his explanation and asked if I thought he was crazy.

“No”, I told him. “No more than the rest of us. Plus – hello – psychic.

He broke open the fortune cookie and told me things about GOD (the One) and about Gods (the Many) that I had no context for, but that strangely made a great deal of sense. Now, I’m going to share them with you.

Prepare to gawk.

What GOD Said

  1. The Monotheists are right.
  2. So are the Polytheists.
  3. And, we’re all wrong.

According to GOD, there are many Gods. These Gods came into being when the universe came into being. These Gods are as natural to the world as we are. They are a part of the world. They did not, however create the universe.

There are also fewer Gods than we might think. There are Gods of Creation, Gods of Destruction, Gods of Death and Birth, and Gods who govern just about every other aspect of the living (and dying) world. They are called different things in different cultures, but essentially, these are the same Gods. We engage with them differently by the stories we tell, and those stories do not even come close to unpacking their true nature.

These Gods, contrary to the assertions of some modern religious folk, including those who share my tradition in ADF Druidism, want nothing from us. They need no offerings, outside of the sincerity of our heart. Anything more — food offerings, burnt offerings, sacrificial offerings — are only useful if they help to clarify or refine that state of sincerity.

But Wait… There’s More…

And, GOD said that there is also GOD. This genderless God, which is the misunderstood God of the Abrahamic tradition, came into being after the universe. GOD did not create the universe, or us.

GOD was born, in effect, at the moment when the a human being (or, homo sapiens, or homo erectus, or some other fabulous homo) first asked the question, “Why?”

GOD is in existence, as my husband describes GOD telling him, with the sole function of experiencing the variety of human experiences. We live in order to inform GOD of what living can be. GOD serves us in no way and we have no need to serve GOD, although we do by living. The more fully we live, the more GOD comes to understand living.

The Biblical stories, an attempt at explaining GOD and GOD’s relationship to humanity, show us examples of how we have behaved, and how we’ve projected our ideas of behavior (anger, benevolence, love) onto GOD. But, GOD is not angry, or benevolent, or loving. GOD simple is.

Um…So…What Does This Mean?

I have no idea. I’m still trying to sort it all out. The challenging thing about these ideas is that they come with no built-in mythology within which to contextualize them.

Our religions require stories. Even Pagans, who fancy themselves to be People of the Library rather than People of the Book, must acknowledge that we build our religious experience around narrative. We are always engaging with narrative, whether that be the stories we tell about our Gods, or the stories we tell about our religious origins and identity. We tell stories in order to understand the meaning behind what we do, and we perform ritual in order to continue to affirm the stories we tell.

It’s a lovely cycle.

And I like this idea of the misunderstood GOD and the Many Gods all coexisting, behaving in different ways than we may have previously thought. It may not be accurate, but I like what it does inside my head. This could become one story that helps me to reconcile my former expression of Christianity and all of what it taught me with my current exploration of Paganism, polytheism and Druidism.

See – I’m not of the mindset that now, as a Pagan, I can shrug off my Christian upbringing as “nonsense”, or dismiss it as some vacuous tradition built on the practice of “co-opting” more ancient, more relevant traditions. That seems lazy, and condescending, and elitist. It does nothing to acknowledge all of what is good about Monotheist traditions, and in a Karmic sense it sets up those who hold that view to have their traditions and beliefs be shrugged off, dismissed and condescended to.

There’s got to be a better way of being.

It’s hard to imagine a way in which two conflicting cosmologies can co-exist. True pluralism requires a level of mental flexibility that many of us are unwilling to practice. In our defense, we haven’t had much in the way of instruction, but that’s no excuse for mental rigidity. We have to take the initiative and seek out a new story; one that speaks to all of our experiences of the Divine.

Be Flexible

For now, this is just information. I’m not going to insist that it serve any one purpose, and I don’t think you need to, either. It may just be good to sit with it and see what ideas it spawns. Perhaps holding this story in my imagination will inform the way I approach my altar, giving me cause to be more sincere in my worship of the Gods. Perhaps it will give me permission to revisit the Biblical stories from my Christian upbringing, seeking out new understandings from this new vantage point. Regardless, it is a valuable exercise in mental flexibility.

What do you think? Do these ideas resonate with you? Does this seem like a possible scenario that GOD and Gods exist, simultaneously, or does that thought rub you the wrong way?

As you think over your thoughts on the matter, I leave you with a video that shows an example of beautiful physical flexibility. May you be in your mind and spirit as this man is in his body: strong, supple, and a sight to behold.

As always, I appreciate you sharing this post with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. And please – join me in conversation in the comment section.

link to video