I’m not sure why I’m a Pagan. I type those words, and I know I’m taking a risk by making this admission, but it’s what’s going through my head.
My Paganism, as well as my Druidry, is feeling more like subject matter for this blog rather than a way of living my life. Being Pagan doesn’t feel very immediate to me. It feels like a construct. It’s a bit like drag; like something I’m putting on, or that I’m trying to assume. I wrote about being a convert. Perhaps this feeling is an extension of that process of conversion. But I’m still not clear on what I’m converting to.
The Pagan Community feels more like an idea to me than anything else. There are Pagan gatherings which I attend from time to time, and groups to which I’ve paid membership dues. But for the most part, the Community lives in the ether, and I’m not exactly certain that I fit into it, or what exactly I should call myself. The labels come with baggage.
I never felt comfortable calling myself a Christian, either. I always told people that I was an Episcopalian. Somehow, identifying with my denomination was easier for me to explain. For me, being a Christian wasn’t as much about what I believed; it was about what I did. I think my Christianity was very Pagan in that way.
By being an Episcopalian, I was liturgical, rational — as much as any “person of faith” can be — and unwilling to accept fundamentalism. I sought out a balance of intellect and emotion, listened for the subtle, soft voice of the Spirit, and opened my awareness to the unexpected ways in which God might be present in the world. That’s what being an Episcopalian was for me, and so, by extension, that’s how I was a Christian.
But there were squabbles within the Christian community about which denomination was getting it right. Christians are constantly arguing amongst themselves about what is the best or most correct way to be a Christian (similar to the arguments between Revivalist and Reconstuctionist Druids on who is actually a Druid, or the talk about which Witch among us is a genuine Witch). Episcopalians were often viewed as too liberal, or sometimes too formal. Some Christians viewed them as too affluent, and too white. Gays had a home in the pews and behind the altar, and for many Christians that was a sure sign that Episcopalians weren’t actually Christian.
It was a hot mess.
My present conundrum is partly rooted in questions of identity, but also in experience. Christmas left me feeling confused. I opened myself up to certain aspects of it, and now I’m wondering what it was that inspired me to leave.
Do I think Christianity has it all right? No. Is God a man? No. But neither is God a woman. God is a metaphor. I’m not sure my Christian or Pagan brothers and sisters think of it that way. I reject the doctrine of original sin (as did many of the Christians I knew back in the day), and I understand how the religion has historically been a breeding ground for greed, power mongering and institutional corruption. But even still, there are discussions happening among more progressive, less institutional, “Emergent” factions of the Christian community — discussions about greed, power mongering and institutional corruption — that have an immediacy and potency that I’m not hearing in other places.
I guess what I’m wonder is — What does being a Pagan get you. Personal freedom? The ability to put together your own tradition? Or, perhaps the chance to structure your life around an ancient tradition? In a way, Christianity offered that to me, too. So how is Paganism different?
I feel hesitant to post about this because I’m concerned with what kind of response I’ll get. I feel like Pagans want to read about proud Pagans, or Pagans who are firm in their identity, and that those of us who are engaged in a discernment process should just get with the program already. There is a streak of militant activism among some of the Pagans I’ve read online, and I’ve been reticent to subject myself to their criticisms.
But, this is where I am. I’m not sure that the direction of this blog can be anything but an honest exploration and examination of my perspective. I’m not an ideologue. I’m not here to push a Pagan agenda. I’m here to unpack my perspective. I’m here to engage in respectful dialogue.
The truth is, being alive right now — being a modern, Western, American human being — is very confusing. It would be simple to say that all one needs to do is firm up their religious identity — be a better Pagan, Witch, Druid, Asatru, or Christian — and then everything would be easier. But I don’t think it works that way. Identity and religious expression are much more complicated than a single word would imply.
Am I alone in this experience?
99 responses to “Questioning Paganism… Again.”
I was raised an Episcopalian as well and like you, there were too many conflicts between the religions. My mother passed away when I was 11 years old which began my question of Christianity as well as being an Episcopalian. To me, as I am new to Paganism, being Pagan means I have faith and I am free to choose who or what it is. The freedom to not be “forced” to believe in ONE God, the Ten Commandments, a book called the Bible, etc. Paganism is freedom to me. It’s is life, my faith, and where I belong. We’re here for you!
Thanks for the support, Bren, and for your comment. I love that, for you, there is such freedom to be found in Paganism. I hope that that leads you to brilliant discoveries about yourself, and the world you inhabit.
Bright blessings to you!
Teo, Thank you SO much for your article. Thus far, I am able to define my religious beliefs based on what I am not. I am much more sure of what I don’t believe than what I do believe. Like you, I have a lot of questions. The thing that really works for me about my pagan beliefs is that individuality of thought is OK. I’m not sure even if I’m monotheistic or polytheistic. I’ve tried meeting in groups or covens, but it’s not a lot more comfortable than going to church. I read. I perform circle by myself. I am searching to find my way. I would like to talk to you more. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Devin – thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m glad the post resonated with you, and I encourage you to read through the rest of the comments. There are some brilliant insights into the quest for clarity about one’s spiritual path, and I think some of them might speak directly to what you’re doing through.
I’d be happy to speak to you more about this. Why don’t you start off the conversation by sending a message through the “Contact Teo” link at the top of this page. I’ll be looking for your email.
Bright blessings to you!
[…] religious identity. One reader of mine, the writer, Gavin Andrew, asked in response to my post, Questioning Paganism…Again, “So Teo, what do you do? What is it that resonates, in your very bones?”It was a […]
I had this feeling about paganism a while ago. For me, It was finding much the same in the old faith that caused me to doubt and leave as I did in my new “pagan” faith. All religious communities come with their own baggage.
You are not alone. I was raised secular but have been a religious/spiritual seeker my whole life. I really find resonance with earth based/pagan theology (god in nature, feminine divine, multiple forms of the divine, etc) but have never found a pagan community that feels comfortable. Two years ago I walked into a Quaker church and have been going back every weekend since. I am not a Christian and there are many things I don’t like about even the most liberal of Christian theologies. But being in a community of people who are searching for god, listening for god, thinking about god in their lives has become really important to me, no matter what kind of vocabulary we use to describe that god. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t really want to be a cultural outsider 🙂
[…] at the Bishop in the Grove blog, Teo Bishop wrestled again with the label of “Pagan”. The question of my Pagan identity has […]
I believe when you stop questioning, you stop growing. I don’t really put too much emphasis on labels such as Pagan, Christian, Buddhist, etc. because it seems that when you do, you are expected to be, act, or do things in a certain way. We are all on our own paths and only we know what feels right and works for us. I started out in the Christian path, a preacher’s daughter, who always thought her way was the right way. I was very closed minded but I never felt the need to “convert” others to “my way” Looking back, I remember questioning many things my father and my faith had to say but NEVER feeling like it was ok to do so out loud. Something happened to me when my mother died and I began questioning “out loud”. So far, that questioning has led me from one Christian church to another and I finally landed here with Paganism which seems to be the best fit for me right now. I still hold dear some of what I was taught as a Christian and I have decided that I NEVER want to stop learning. I call what you are experiencing a “growth spurt” and I look at those as perfect times to explore even more of the many faiths that are out there. Take what works for you and leave the rest but always do so with love. During my biggest period of growth, and I didn’t really know which end was up, I referred to myself as “spiritual”. It seemed to cover those things I embraced without putting me into a “category”. Good luck on your journey!!
“Growth spurt” — I like that.
Thank you, Marilyn, for sharing your perspective here. I hope that in you continue to question out loud, and that in doing so you discover the truth that is most resonant for you.
I am sorry for your current crisis… these dark nights of the soul are great for fostering deeper spirituality and I hope that with your questions come the “immediacy” that you seek.
For me nothing could be more personal than paganism. Finding the religion of my ancestors was a natural process, and I followed my heart right to it. It was a feeling that came in whenever I was outdoors in nature, by flowing water, feeling the wind, under the trees, the sunshine, etc. All that hippy stuff that is so looked down upon in our cold, industrial crappy world. The archetypes and old traditions have been really useful and they continue to grow along with me.
As with any other spiritual path, you can’t find it in a book… it may point you in the right direction but ultimately you have to do the legwork yourself… whatever that is is up to you. Your path doesn’t have to be black and white, it doesnt have to include any guilt, shame or “conversion” and keep in mind that theres nothing wrong with syncretism, its all about your personal path.
Thank you for you comment, kittlu. I appreciate you kind words.
You’re reaching back into ancestry is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot this morning. For a while I’ve had a hard time in understanding the intrinsic value of reconstructing old tradition, or even in looking to the deep past to find sense in the present, but that’s beginning to change.
You make a good point — it’s valuable to simply *be* on this path, try to understand it for what it is, and, perhaps, be more loving of the whole process.
I believe the Pagan community is an idea, and a fantastic one. It is
something, that as Pagans, we can rely on for some sort of “normalcy” when we
are the ones who are constantly considered “abnormal” because of the religious path
that we have chosen.
Labels ARE baggage, unfortunately, it is part of the way that society works
to place labels on everything (a little tidbit that I have learned in all of
the social work classes that I have taken). We place labels on everything so
that we know where everything fits into our realm of living. Not everyone deals
well with labels, like you, I do not like labels. I want to be ME, not a LABEL.
As you well know, Paganism is so broad of a spectrum, I am not even sure we
can safely call it a “spectrum”. I used to call myself Wiccan, then as I grew
into my spirituality, I discovered that I am merely a Witch with Pagan
tendencies. I believe in Jesus Christ the MAN, I believe whole heartedly that
he did exist. Do I believe that he was the Christian messiah? No, I don’t and
that is something I get ostracized about a lot. Being a Witch, I believe Jesus
Christ was one of the greatest Witches to ever walk this planet. But after
reading the Bible so many times, that is what I believe.
I, too, reject the idea of original sin, in fact I do not believe in any
form of sin. It does not make sense to me that the Christian God would keep
giving us so many chances if He does in fact exist in the realm that the
Christians place Him in. I also have a very hard time with any religion that
uses politics as a means to get notoriety. How many Pagan Senators, Governors,
etc, do you think there are? And of those, how many are open about it? NONE
that I know of, because if they were, there is no way, in my opinion, would
they have ever been elected to an office of power. Which again leads me to the issues of the separation
of church and state, but that is a whole different soap opera.
To me, Paganism is about being able to control my own destiny without
needing a middle man to constantly badger me telling me that I am going to burn
in the pits of hell for all of eternity because I didn’t give enough money to
the church. I like the fact that I answer directly to the God(s) and
Goddess(es) of my choice and I do not have to worry about the overflow of dogma
that you get with the other mainstream religions. Paganism is about personal
freedom, freedom to practice my religion, my way, without worrying about completely
pissing off the the masses (please forgive the language.)
One thing that I love about Paganism, at least the Pagan community that I have
been blessed to be a part of, I have never had an issue with anyone reacting
negatively to my questioning myself. We are all open books, with many blank
pages that need to be filled. Those pages cannot be filled if we do not learn
more about who we are, what we are, where we are, and why we are. To question
ourselves, our faith, is a way for us to learn more about why we have chosen
this faith. I have found when I start to doubt my path, I start to read more
about it, even some of the same books that I have already read a dozen times,
and there will always be something that triggers the “AH HA” moment for me and I
will remember what it was that brought me down this path to begin with. If you
cannot be honest with yourself about your own questioning your choice of
religious/spiritual path, then you are going to have a hole in your heart and
soul and spirit that cannot be filled. I think the fact you did this openly is
an excellent start to finding your true niche in your realm of Paganism.
Sorry about being so long winded, but when it comes to this
particular topic, I have a great deal of passion for it, in case you didn’t
Thanks for your comment, and no need to apologize. I’m glad that my post inspired you to speak about so many different aspects of this subject. I hope you continue to share your thoughts here on the blog!
Just found this post, and it’s fascinating! To me, Paganism allows me to contemplate immanent divinity, and all of its implications. How would we act differently if we truly believed that the Earth and everything on it is a manifestation of God/dess? How would we treat ourselves, as part of Earth?
My particular cosmology provides me with a worldview that makes sense, and anchors me in my life. Christianity didn’t – I didn’t feel there was a place for who I am on that path, except as shamed and shunned. Not how I want to spend my time.
Thanks for the ideas!
Glad the post resonated with you, Leanne. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
Your questions about immanent divinity are quite resonant for me at the moment. I can’t say I have an answer to either of them, but the musing gives me great pleasure.
I’d love to know — what is your particular cosmology? How do you identify?
No, you are not alone, and honestly I think more people need to be open and honest about this type of uncertainty, or as I’ve come to call it, growing pains. So for that, thank you for standing up and speaking about this.
I wish I could say more but recently I’ve found myself in a similar patch, though it’s less about being Christian or Pagan but rather what sort of Pagan identity truly speaks to me. This like many of your other posts has made me think, and perhaps after some thinking I might have more to share.
And I hope you do share, Satiah. Thank you for this comment.
Is your quest for a clear Pagan identity being informed by a community you belong to, or are you on a hunt through the shelves of Pagan books (as many of us are from time to time) looking for something definitive that speaks to you?
I had similar feelings when I was exploring Wicca and other pagan traditions–what do I actually believe, and how do I go about it? It felt like a put-on.
And then I found Asatru. Heathenism puts the focus on what you *DO*…so I’ve started *DO*-ing, and the beliefs and world-view have slowly started to come into focus as I figure out where and how the religious thinky-bits relate to the various things I’m doing in my life.
It’s not a quick and easy process–I imagine this is why Jews have a long (I believe a year-long) process of conversion, and why traditional Wicca has the Year-and-a-Day study time, to allow for the new world view to come into focus, and replace the old system of thinking.
Don’t expect a sudden *Ahah* moment to grab you. It may take years of searching, testing, and experimenting with various ideas, values, and beliefs for you to find something that really fits and you can understand and embody.
Thank you for this comment, Will.
It’s interesting — I hear a lot about the “Do” coming before the “Believe,” and I’m not sure I understand completely how that works. Can anything come before the first act of *doing*? Is it instinct or intuition that leads one to the doing, or is it — as I imagine it might be in Asatru groups — research into and reconstruction of something very old?
Teo, most of us here have been where you are now . Life itself is a journey , not a destination . This is why i call my wonderings on my path a journey. What worked for me is finding my own ethnic path , what my ancestors did. The entire Christian belief System didn’t work for me, parts of it , i just couldn’t reconsile .I was agnostic for many years , then after a near death experience and alot of soul searching, and research , i found paganism , Sinnsreachd and ADF celtic druidry .I am of Celt/Gael heritage Sinnsreachd is my personnal path , ADF is my formal home , where my grove is . Both are essentialy the same in beliefs , philosophy.I personally do feel once you settle on a correct path for yourself it’s imprtant to find an informal group to find support and commerodery with, support and guidance along your way.And just for the record , i didn’t come to this point easily or w/o pain , tis been a long strange journey of more than 25 yrs. I started out sorta wiccan, ended up here, and i’m still learning and evolving on my personal path .Even if paganism is not where you end up , i wish you luck and success on your own personal journey , please don’t loose faith , eventualy , with due dilligence , you will find your place.I did Kilm
Thank you for your kind encouragement, Kilm. I’m always glad to hear from you.
[…] origins is, I believe, necessary to the maturation of the Neopagan movement. I recently read a response to Teo’s by C. Aine Pearson which went as […]
There’s no right or wrong in faith. I’ve been in that place waiting for that aha moment when it all becomes clear to you and the puzzle peices all lock together and you feel that blessed radiant light that warms you from your spirit and allows you to know you’ve come home and being disapointed when it’s not there. That was why I found paganism, because no one expected me to feel that, and I was freed from the chains of supposed to this or that. There are squabbles in every faith. Those with little self-esteem who are desperate for validation will be the most loud players everywhere you go. What you need to remeber is you don’t NEED to pick any faith.
At the end of the day there is no cosmic energy looking down on you shaking their head “so they haven’t picked yet huh?” You don’t need the groups, they’re simply meant to be used for fellowship and if you don’t feel the fellowship don’t bother. It’s you faith and your path. Who says you need one God, or many Gods, or any God at all? People? They’re just the same as you scrambling around trying to find a home. Celebrate Christmas, Yule, Kwanza, whatever. Life is short and we should welcome as many opportunities to celebrate as we can and be damned to whether or not we “should” because really who says?
As soon as you stop trying to squeeze yourself into someone else’s mold you’ll realize there was never anything to be confused about in the first place, because you don’t NEED to be anything.
There’s something in the spirit of your comment, Fawn, that really speaks to me. I don’t know that I can articulate what it means, and I’m not sure I know what to do with the feeling, but I like it. It feels liberating, somehow.
Thank you for this. I really appreciate it.
I have a question back at you: why does labeling yourself as one thing or another matter? Live as you know is right; the gods know their own.
I wondered for a long time what to label myself (after brazenly declaring myself pagan at Sunday School at age 6), until I came to the realization that it really didn’t matter. Actions, and the way that one behaves, matter. No one but the gods and ourselves know our beliefs; and they are no-one else’s business either. It is back to the debate over orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy – and in my opinion, orthodoxy is impossible. As the joke goes, put ten lawyers in a room, and you’ll get twelve different opinions – the same goes with any kinds of beliefs.
Thank you for this comment, Eran.
Identity is a construction. The “me” that I present in one circumstance may not be the “me” I present in another. I don’t see this as two-facedness. This seems connected to the same experiences I had growing up gay, and making clear decisions about how to present in different situations.
There are, of course, parts of me which run constant throughout, regardless of how I might choose to present. However, being able to differentiate them from the more chosen characteristics becomes difficult. I hope this is making sense.
So, when I think about the subject of what it means to be Pagan, or Christian, or a Druid, I’m engaging in a process that not only informs the deliberate ways I’m enacting my life, but also it is a search for something essential inside of me. I’m trying to find out what is inherent and what is assumed, and then attempting to find the right word to describe each part.
It has been years… probably a quarter of my life, really… since I’ve been totally comfortable in my “religious skin” so I completely understand where the questions come from. For me, the beginning of this path was the hardest decision I ever made. Since I gave myself up to following my religious instinct, I’ve been through a natural evolution of beliefs, that led from my childhood in Christian Fundamentalism, through the Episcopal and Catholic Churches, and onward out of Christianity altogether and into Paganism. I’m currently studying with a non-Wiccan Witchcraft Tradition, and it’s been an amazing experience, but even as I do it, I find Druidry so compelling that I wonder if I’m not being carried by the current again. I try not to be rash, but I follow the impulse. At first it felt like throwing myself blindly off a cliff, but I’ve come to feel more like I’m being carried by a current – I am surrendered to it, and it’s gentle enough that it doesn’t frighten me any more.
And that’s what I “get” from Paganism. For me it’s about the journey. The willingness to do what I feel like I have to do to be fulfilled. It’s an exercise in self knowledge and self-trust, and I can see very vividly how I’ve changed along the way. At any point along this road, I could look back and connect the dots and see how I got there, but I could never see ahead to where I was going. And so I don’t know if I’ll remain Pagan forever, or if I’m merely growing through it like I did with Catholicism. So I do question, all the time. But there’s something inside me that’s very determinedly religious, and it keeps pushing me to seek and I find it very hard to resist.
Sometimes I worry, like Themon mentioned, that I’m going to pass my “romance phase” with new religious practice, that I’m going to burn through things and look for only the experience and never uncover the depths of meaning beyond it, but I don’t think that’s true. I can see the road behind me, and it’s focused, and I have to believe it leads somewhere. And I feel like it might be here. So sometimes I question if I’m really at the end point of that journey (the macro journey, I hope the micro journey continues forever!) but I don’t question the road I’m on entirely, or where I am right this moment.
I love the way you describe the “road” you’re on as being broad and expansive enough to include all of these traditions that you’ve explored. That’s an amazing road!!
We’re living. We’re alive, and taking in all of this wonderful, challenging, often confusing stuff and trying to make sense of it. We assume these identities, and we make ourselves into one person or another, and it doesn’t stop…until it does…and then it still doesn’t stop. I think.
Your journey sounds fascinating to me. It sounds like something I’d like to hear about over tea! Your life, in my imagination, is rich and complicated, like a bold wine or a savory dish, and that seems worthy of celebration, no?
Thank you for sharing this bit of yourself here, WhiteBirch. I appreciate coming to know a little more about you.
From my own blog, musing this very topic: I doubt my spiritual path more often than I feel certain about it. I am a Pagan (but not a Witch), Priestess of the Western Mystery Tradition ( without a Temple), and champion of the Divine Feminine (who does not believe that the Divine has a gender). Finally, I am an existential psychologist, and firmly believe that the “givens of existence” (Death, Isolation, Freedom and Meaninglessness) drive many an angst ridden seeker to lock down a belief system simply to secure an afterlife, companionship, boundaries and a mission statement.
Only recently am I becoming comfortable this, as I recognize that my doubt is what informs my faith.
What a wonderful comment, and what an intriguing person you are!
I love what you’ve written, Betzking. There is a beautiful simplicity in the complication; a perfect harmony in dissonance.
I would love to know more about your blog — would you share the URL here?
I think it’s actually a decent thing to talk about this, Teo, but it seems a lot of your questions are about things we, as Pagans always have to *build* together: not just take on a label and be like, “What does being a Pagan *get* me:” It may not be the ‘right question’ ….not for all moments, anyway.
It’s not a question I, for one, ever asked: as labels go, for me it was just a matter of ‘Oh, so *that’s* what I am. And what this Lady’s about, at this point.’
My perspective on this is more of someone who sort of found the Gods (Or got found by, more like,) *before* discovering active Pagan religion: and that means, despite the arguing about definitions, it’s not really about ‘What religion is right to find God/dess’ with. The way I see ‘Paganism’ is ‘How the people are practicing these things these days.’
It’s of course perfectly valid to be a seeker the other way around: from that point of view, perhaps what you ‘get’ has a lot to do with the very fluidity and openness that means we’re sometimes hard to define, even to ourselves and each other. I consider myself pretty blessed with an ‘engraved invitation,’ and a lot of patience from Herself about getting religious, if that’s even Her big priority in that way. Also, Her refusal to be so easy to label or nail down, never mind necessarily let *me* take easy answers on a lot of points like that.
We all ‘get’ a number of different things, in different shapes. That’s actually one of the best *parts* of ‘what we get.’ We don’t get easy labels. (Or one-size-fits-all ‘creeds’ to swallow.)
But we get each other.
And all this.
I, for one, believe in a very patient Goddess: She’d have to be, cause I can be pretty high-maintenance. 🙂 I think that’s one thing we ‘get,’ too: a Universe that isn’t on some egg timer demanding, ‘Is that your final answer?’
We *get* to be as relaxed, or frenetic, about these things as we need to. We’re still working on structure, lots of structures. But we get to do that, too. 🙂
We even get to be ‘wrong’ if we’re sincere about it, and OK to learn. That’s no mean thing. 🙂 We get to not worry about the shape or firmness of belief as some final arbiter of *character,* either. I consider myself a person of deep Pagan faith, …I also get to be no more or less Pagan than the next Pagan that may not. Which is good. Very healthy for me, I think. 🙂
Take your time, ….and don’t worry too much about being attached to outcomes. That’s what I say.
Thank you for this, BHG. I appreciate the kind words of encouragement and inspiration.
Blessings to you.
Thanks for being honest because I often feel the same. I’m a recent “convert,” too, but I often find myself wondering exactly what I’m doing as a pagan. Yes, it does feel like an idea since I don’t have a tight-knit community (but is that a requirement?). But that label, “pagan,” doesn’t fit me; yes, it comes with baggage. Especially now, as I’m going through a difficult personal time, I wonder, how does being pagan differ from when i was a Christian? And maybe I’m looking at everything still through those Christian eyes; after all, I was a Christian for most of my life.
But I never intended to “convert” even. I use that term loosely. I don’t feel that I converted except for it being a conscious decision to change my path. Rather, I believe I see the world and “reality” more for what it actually is, but I don’t think Aphrodite is going to help me along any more than Jesus will. In other words, I don’t want to escape Christian certainty only to fall prey to pagan certainty. I guess I simply feel my new outlook suits me better, is less divisive and more inspirational, but I also can’t take the details too seriously. I guess that’s what “being a pagan” gets me: connection to something that feels tangible to me (the Earth), something that inspires wonder, and it brings me joy. I think religions of any kind can get you caught up in their debates, but those debates are often created ones, for good or bad. And I don’t want just another religion. I want something beyond that: truth. And, ironically perhaps, truth is merely another idea we can never pin down.
I understand what you’re saying…to the point of shedding tears. I follow Christ and yet have been so pushed and bashed by “Christians” for not conforming to their idea of what being a Christian means. In the last several months of studying and having long discussions with pagans about ‘paganism’ I’m still not at a place where I like any label. When a follower of Christ is forced to take a label and every.single.point.by.point description of what one denomination says constitutes being a Christian, I fall miserably short. But it’s not really up to them to say if I am or am not a Christian. They can’t force me to take a label and it’s description against my will and they certainly can’t strip me of my ‘being in Christ’. And yet I find such in depth beauty in the freedom pagans have to identify with the Divine in their own personal ways and to develop their own traditions. It’s enjoyable to gather with others who celebrate in similar ways, I think that’s understandable. Just like we can enjoy Disneyland together even if people happen to like all the villains, or have a stronger preference for Donald than Mickey. I keep coming back to this… can’t we all just get along? can we love each other with or without the labels?
You are not alone. I myself was having religous issues. I went from being a catholic who never went to church to a christian, mormon, and baptist. I was not comfortable with none of them. I had always been intrested in witchcraft since I was little and feel more at home as a pagan. I feel free and happy. It took me long time to finally feel this way. Now i have to let my family know and well thats going to be the hard part cause they already think I am odd. 🙂
You asked: “What does being a Pagan get you. Personal freedom? The ability to put
together your own tradition? Or, perhaps the chance to structure your
life around an ancient tradition? In a way, Christianity offered that to
me, too. So how is Paganism different?”
Well, to those who follow Theosophy *every* religion is connected to the Divine, so truly, none of them are as different as they seem when it comes to the root of it all.
But Paganism to me provides everything you’d said — plus more. It provides — my soul.
Like Christianity, you can’t just go for the propaganda of Paganism. There’s a lot of visuals like focusing on tribal (primal) things, being overly sexual and justifying it as “fertility worship..” etc.. but that’s not what being Pagan is about. To some, that may be a big part of it, but it’s not exactly the sum of “Paganism.” Unfortunately, the label is too broad to explain. Then again, Christianity has over 38,000 denominations… So how exactly can one say what being CHRISTIAN is about? The sum of that would be watered down a bit too cheaply as well.
So I guess the real question to ask would be “Why did you choose Paganism? What reason did you feel compelled to turn to it?” It seems you’re more Christian at heart. I know the feeling, I went through that myself when I converted.. but that’s more of a nostalgic thing than anything else. It doesn’t give me my soul.
And yes, you’re right… “God/dess” is neither male nor female. However, YAHWEH (the Jewish male deity) is male. He just evolved throughout the centuries when humanity also evolved and decided .. “gender has limitations. Let us make HIM beyond gender..”
Also, according to the original Hebrew bible.. ELOHIM (plural for Deity) created the Earth.. Hence the expression in Genesis: “Let us make humankind in OUR image.”
Since the roots to Christianity ARE Pagan in origin… I wouldn’t feel too far from home if I studied the Bible or became Christian… However, I DON’T believe human’s are tainted with invisible taint called “sin,” just because we have the option to be destructive. And I DON’T believe that there is only ONE way for our Diverse existences to live. So I’d not only be lying if I called myself a Christian, I’d also be dishonoring its basic concepts.
The concept of a Savior (or “Son” of “God”) is Pagan in origin, though. So I would definitely be able to relate to that.
More importantly, I think you should listen to your heart and question your soul — constantly. You’re constantly evolving and flowing.. So you will never get bored exploring your own soul and what you are becoming.
Paganism feels true to me because it is fluid, our lives are always in a state of change. How we practice, what areas we currently emphasize can change with our current situation, without having a written rule book or leaders saying we are wrong. I look at the writers and “out” there pagans as guides, not judges or the last word on what is true. We have to stop comparing ourselves to Christians or defining ourselves as converts. Christianity is becoming something else people choose to believe instead of a way to define anything to me.
I REALLY appreciate what you’ve just written! My own thoughts are similar, but I even take it a few steps further.
When I call myself a pagan, I am referring to the definition of ‘Earth-Based Worship’. I do, in fact, worship the earth and all of it’s cycles. I honor the solar and lunar cycles. I give thanks to the earth and consider her/it as a living thing with a collective consciousness. For sake of ease, I am happy to call the earth a HER (because, being so fertile, it feels like more of a feminine energy to me – but of course, for anything to be created, you typically need both feminine AND mascule energy), and I’m comfortable using the name Gaia (but I realize that is simply the name *I* have given her.
I believe that Christianity, like paganism or any other belief system, is typically filled with mythology and metaphors. Those stories and ideas serve a purpose for the people who created the stories, as well as for those who believe in them. Some people are happy to appreciate the stories for their ‘moral’ lessons, realizing that they are unlikely to be literal and to-the-letter-accurate/true. Some people feel the need to insist upon each letter of the story being ‘true’ in order for them to glean the lesson from the story – or to help them justify their steadfast belief in the system as a whole. Whatever works for each person is fine with me.
Most people cannot deny that we have 4 seasons, that the moon has monthly cycles, that our agriculture goes through cycles, that animals have important life-cycles, that hunting and eating food from the earth sustain humankind, etc. Whether people choose to CELEBRATE and HONOR that is their own choice. I fall under that category of people who choose to make those cycles something I honor.
For me (as an example of my beliefs), I love the story of the wild hunt. Do I believe it actually happened or is happening each year on some magical level? No. I enjoy the mythology, however…the story is fun and exciting. For me, it’s about celebrating the time of hunting so that we can put meat on our tables. I enjoy the practice of ritual, because it is a time for me to focus on those cycles of life that are important to me. To use the stories as an anchor and base to focus upon in order to bring my awareness into a state of gratitude for those cycles (to me) is fun and helpful.
I don’t NEED the stories, however – especially since I consider them largely metaphorical and mythological. So, that leaves me in a strange category. I’m not an ‘athiest’, because I *DO* believe in a universal energy source that I label as ‘god’. I do feel that this ‘god’ encompasses ALL, and so each ‘personality’ that pagan stories depict would be a part of that ALL. So, I don’t begrudge those who wish to go to the next level to insist that those personalities EXIST. I suppose that, using different criteria, one could say they DO ‘exist’ on some level. I’m fine with that.
I guess that if I were to answer the question of where paganism ‘gets’ me, I’d have to say that it allows me to consider myself part of a larger group of people who honor those cycles of the year that I honor. They might do it differently, and they may delve more deeply or attach more belief to the personalities in the stories of many pagan beliefs. It is the ‘religion’ (if you will) that I feel I fit best into. It gets me a feeling of connection to others who appreciate the cycles around us.
No you are not alone, and I find it very refreshing and inspiring that someone else might question thier faith. I have only been a pagan for about a year and a half, and about half that time I’ve spent questioning what I’m doing, particularly with last year being so very challenging. I even had a little voice (my own) that questioned whether my challenges didn’t stem from my rejection of christianity. The odd part about that is that I was never a particularly devout christian anyway, never went to church, still haven’t read the bible. When I began questioning my spirituality a few years ago, the only thing that spoke to me was an earth centered, both male and female perspective. And here I am, still exploring what I believe. I hope we’re still doing that twenty years from now, how else can we grow?
Dear Teo, my thoughts in response to this blog may be a
little rambly, because some of them are getting more cohesive as I type them
I know how you feel.
I don’t feel a part of my community, mostly because I don’t even know
where/what my community is. I’ve
separated myself from it for years, and have no idea how to get “plugged in”
again. We don’t have a pagan community
center, and the only shops in the area are over 20 miles away from me. So my only “community” connections are
I define paganism (for myself) as philosophy and lifestyle,
whereas my religion (Wicca) is a structure for how I practice my faith. And then I use “witch” as a self-identifier
when I’m talking about practicing magic.
Oddly, it doesn’t feel confusing to me in the least. I don’t wear “pagan drag” like a lot of folks
do, I don’t even own any. Thanks to the
joys of aging and laziness, I’m too fat to wear any of my pagan rings, and I
stopped wearing my pentacle when the chain broke and I haven’t replaced
it. My faith, my power, and my thoughts
don’t depend on the trappings and the drag, they live in my heart. But then, I’ve been on this path since 1984 –
I’ve had practice.
My answer to your question “What does being a Pagan get you?”
is that it is more compatible with my worldview and experiences than any other
spiritual path I’ve looked at. It feels
like home, and that makes me happy. It
doesn’t provide all the answers to life’s questions – but then, no spiritual
path or religion does that. I do feel
that it gives me more effective tools to find my own answers within myself,
I am *definitely* not “judging” you for your
self-exploration. It’s part of the
process, and it won’t be the first time you go through this arc of the spiral
of development. I have had my crisis of
faith periods, and self-identity issues over the years, and I’m sure I will
have more in the future. If we don’t
question ourselves, we aren’t paying attention to our lives and our
feelings. Hope that helps 🙂
How long have you been Pagan? I ask because I am a new convert, if convert is the right term. I have been studying Wicca for about 3 months. I accept it intellectually but have not had an emotional experience yet. I wish I had an answer for you, but I’m looking for the same thing you are
As I have gone from Catholic to born-again Christian to being initiated into the Himalayan Vedic Tradition and finally to an Ougan (Vodou Priest), I have had many different belief and philosophical systems I’m coming from. There have been many different frames for my beliefs, but my beliefs have been pretty consistent through all of these frameworks.
What I have decided is there are benefits to all of these systems. People like to disparage Christianity for it’s history (myself included being guilty of this in my younger years) or due to it being the dominate religion in our culture and thus making it a popular target. But it takes more courage to stick up for it and it’s good points, as much courage to state you are or are not a pagan and as much for me to say I have beliefs in all three of my major faith backgrounds.
Why must one choose just one religious system? Sure there are contradictions to reconcile, but that exists within one belief system and your personal beliefs as well. Three will always be things to reconcile.
With this reasoning, you should be able to be both Christian and Pagan. In fact, Christianity has absorbed and adopted many Pagan traditions (and been outright hostile at the same time to many). But you can be the one to carry both. Religion is an imperfect system by humans to try and make sense of the divine. Many systems and traditions try hard to make sense of it, and many have strengths in it’s attempts. But if you’re trying to make sense of the divine and humankind’s part in it, then all traditions have something to give and many have similarities. In these similarities you are likely to find intersections of truth, and the dissent among them may be off the path a bit.
I think one can benefit from approaching all religions as having aspects of truth from the divine. In this, you gain from your questioning and your acceptance of a dual role, one as a Pagan and one as a Christian.
I’m sure many will disagree with this.
good posts and good questions. (full disclosure: i’m a christian.) you’re right–it’s too easy to label something and then make it an identity without wrestling with it and making it yours. but the latter, while way more difficult, is more authentic (or at least i hope so!). thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your comment, Coleen. I appreciate your perspective, and I think your right in emphasizing the authenticity that is born of out this kind of questioning. Or, at least, the potential for authenticity.
Did you experience this kind of “wrestling” with your identity as a Christian?
As always, a great article, Teo. 🙂
You are certainly not alone.
I think it’s a lot like romance and sex. There is nothing in a long-term relationship that is anything like the fires of new Eros. No matter where the relationship starts, if you stay with it for a while, those fires cool. You can run from partner to partner — or religion to religion — seeking to recapture and relive that hot, immediate flame, but even that starts to pall with repetition. And with religion, you have fewer partners to choose from.
If you find a good long-term partner, that new Eros mellows into something less hot and bright, but warm and steady. You can articulate that as a loss, or as a gain, when in reality it is both.
If the partnership is not good, the fires go out and it gets cold. You can’t keep your heart in it. You can only pretend. Or move on.
I was comfortable with my relationship with Christianity for quite a long time: up through my early thirties. After that, it wasn’t so good, and the more I looked into my discomfort, the less comfortable I became. I moved to a different town to follow a job change, and that shredded my social ties with the church. I faced several intense personal crises that Christianity is particularly poor at dealing with. It wasn’t a good partnership and was freighted with some horrendous childhood baggage; when the fires went out, it got cold. I decided to move on rather than pretend.
Moving on doesn’t turn the clock back, however. When I separated from my wife and started dating again in my forties, it was nothing at all like dating in high school. The women were all completely different than I remembered. I was completely different. Yes, there was a thrill of new Eros, but it was nothing like what I’d felt in my twenties, and it didn’t last as long. The honeymoon kept getting shorter with each new partner.
I’m not saying that those short, hot flares were not well worth it (though some I could have done without.) I’m only saying they weren’t the same, and that they were subject to an inflexible law of diminishing returns.
The same thing happens with religion, I think.
I no longer expect to find in Druidry –or anywhere else — the hot fires of faith I found in my explorations under the Big Christian Tent when I was a young man. That’s because I’m not that young man any more. I’m entering the last third of my life — and I’m not inclined to start dating a religious outlook young enough to be my own daughter, so to speak. Whether that outlook is found in Christianity or Druidism.
*hit post too soon! So sorry!*
So keep searching, keep questioning, keep going deeper… all hail the Seeker!
For many years (20+) I used the label Wiccan
(Alexandrian to be specific) but I kept searching and growing and peeling the
Onion. Suddenly I found veils lifted from my inner eye/heart. For me it
was the realization that religion(s) are initiatory paths that bring about a
deep awakening of the spirit. Once you realize that you are One w/universe and
everyone and everything in it, it becomes very hard to hold on to any religious
labels. I use ‘Pagan Gnostic’ because I find the comfort of nature to
reach that Universal Peace is my spiritual DNA.
Teo, I really appreciated reading this post and, as a relatively new reader, I am amazed at how you well you are able to articulate things that evidently your readers (and I) are able to relate to.
While some of the comments here focus on issues of community and fitting in (something common among many of us, whether pagan or druid or gay or somehow different from those around us) I can’t help but wonder why you think it is important for your identity to have a frame or way of defining yourself in relationship to communities that were defined before you came on the scene? In other words, why is it important for you to define yourself, or put yourself in a box, as being this or that, rather than just being you?
Why do you want to fit in?
Thank you for your comment, Jeffrey. I’m glad that the tone and subject matter of the blog resonate with you. There’s quite a vibrant community of readers here, and I am tremendously grateful for the insights they bring.
I guess I hadn’t thought of myself or my current state in those terms. I don’t feel as if I’m seeking widespread approval, nor does my inquiry feel motivated by a desire to be like anyone else. I find the subject of identity to be intriguing, confusing, challenging, and, at times, wholly inspiring.
Alone, in the privacy of my home, in the stillness of my heart, I think I understand who I am. The challenge becomes sharing that understand with others. Does that make sense?
There have been many excellent comments and suggestions, so I will try to be succinct.
My paganism is about doing and experiencing the spiritual with my body. Christianity, by contrast (and with some notable exceptions contained within the rich tradition of Christian mysticism) is focused almost entirely upon believing things with one’s mind. It sounds like you have had almost the opposite experience, and that is fine too.
If singing hymns in church did it for me, I’d be there. What does it for me is gathering with other witches in the dark under the moon. Ritual performed in secret. Dancing naked in a ring of fire, sweat and sensuality and communion. Ecstasis Sabbati. Feeling the approach of the Horned God through the wild, the terror and exhilaration. Calling spirits into the storm. Letting go of the rational mind, and journeying to far away places.
Yoga or martial arts could do it too: they are also about doing and experiencing things with one’s body.
It is what you do and experience that matters, I say, not the construct you put around it. In my experience, you can afford to drop the whole bundle of “What do I believe about this, and what does that make me? Who am I?” Because it ALWAYS comes back sooner or later.
So Teo, what do you do? What is it that resonates, in your very bones?
Rather than answer your questions in the comment thread, I’m using them to pull together a new post. You’ve inspired me, Gavin!
You’re quite right in one respect. Paganism IS a construct because ALL religion is a construct. It’s a construct that allows us to begin to comprehend the incomprehensible. I don’t perhaps feel the same sense of dilemma as you do because I don’t feel like I’m really converting FROM something TO something. My soul always was pagan, and my “conversion” was simply (or not so simply), a matter of grasping that, honoring it and giving it a name, even an imprecise one. Being pagan to me is more about the guts to go on the journey rather than worrying about the detail of the destination.
So what does it MEAN to be pagan versus something else? To me it means understanding the divine as more immanent than transcendant, equally feminine and masculine. It is something that puts us squarely within the web of life rather than as puppet masters living above or outside of nature. It is a religion or system of religions that calls us to revel in THIS life as much as any afterlife. It calls us to live in affirmative, rather than proscriptive, terms.
Perhaps the very best summation of what it means to be pagan is one that I think I saw over on Star’s blog a while back, maybe about the time she took her initiation. As I recall, she said something to the effect that paganism is about striving to be more human, not more godlike. THAT to me nails it in one sentence better than any other definition I’ve ever read.
I’ve noticed that most of the strident pagan bloggers I’ve seen have less than five years experience as pagans. (OK, most pagan bloggers period have less than five years experience as pagans. But the few who have more tend to be distinctly un-strident.) And their primary audience is those who have even less experience.
Do you make any conclusions based on this observation, Ian?
My personal conclusion is that strident blogs aren’t worth my time or energy. You have to decide for yourself if reading them nourishes your spirit.
You are not alone. I am grateful to hear someone finally talk about this! Thank you!
Thank your or the comment, Patrice!
Thanks for being brave and sharing your perspective on this. I don’t think you’re alone, and it’s good to have a well-known voice speaking about these experiences. It sort of legitimizes the struggle a lot of us probably go through at some point.
Personally, I don’t think Paganism “gets” me anything. I’ve never been in a place where I could attend Pagan gatherings or really benefit from a physical community, and while I love the community I have formed through blogging, it’s not specifically Pagan either. More Christians form that community than Pagans, really. I’m not Pagan because I fit into a community or even because it offers me more than another religion. It’s just the label other people have put on my religion, so accepting the label is a way of connecting with others and describing myself in a simple way.
I wish you the best and hope you are able to sort through these questions in a way that works for you.
Teo, you say your religion is about what you do more than about what you believe, and I wholeheartedly agree. But religion is also a question of _whose_ you are – who do you belong to?
This isn’t just a theological question (although that’s certainly important). It’s a question of community – where do you belong? When you were an Episcopalian you were (I strongly suspect) also a member of a congregation. Are you part of an active Pagan community? I don’t mean going to festivals or open circles – I mean being a part of a group with people you can see and touch and invite over for dinner every once in a while. (I apologize if you’ve covered this in a previous post and I missed it).
Druid groves tend to be few and far between. If there’s not one near you, is there a Wiccan or Heathen or other group you could be a part of? I’ve found my home in a CUUPS group and a Unitarian Universalist church.
Questioning is good. It keeps you – and everyone around you – honest. The day you stop questioning is the day you start to die. Who you belong to is at least as important as what you believe and what you do.
Hi John. Thank you for your comment. You raise a very important point about community, and I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can.
I belonged to an Episcopal congregation for many years, and the feeling of belonging was strengthened by my own involvement in the community. I understand the connection between what I put in and what returned to me. So, in a way, what I’m experiencing now is the absence of that kind of reciprocity.
I have not invested myself fully into a local Pagan community. There are a couple local, or nearly-local Druid groves — one OBOD and the other ADF — but I’ve not felt consistently compelled to engage with them for one reason or another. Perhaps that’s worth exploring in another post…
I have had positive experiences at a local CUUPS group, and I’ve even considered that UU might me a good home for me. Still, something holds me back.
What led you to UU?
When I realized I needed to be a part of a group, I went looking for a CUUPS group. There were no Druid groves in my area and the Wiccan covens I had read about weren’t healthy organizations. I went to one CUUPS circle just to check it out, then kept coming back again and again.
The core CUUPS leaders were also active in the UU church and stressed the need for “right relationship” with the church, so I started going on Sunday mornings occasionally. I found I rather liked it, and before too long I was deeply involved in both groups.
I like being a UU because it lets me honor the religion of my youth without asking me to believe things I can’t believe, because I like finding inspiration in many sources, and because its this-world focus keeps me grounded. It isn’t perfect (I wish there was more spiritual depth, although my congregation is getting better with this) but it works for me.
If a Druid grove were to pop up in my neighborhood I’d join in a minute, but my CUUPS group and UU church has become my family – I’d find a way to do both.
Thank you for such an honest and authentic post, Teo.
I can relate to much of what you say. I came from an Irish Catholic background that was in many ways also very liberal and very pagan (lowercase-p), rooted deeply in a commitment to social justice and inspired by the poetic/mystic traditions of the saints, with strands of my Celtic/Irish heritage and a reverence for nature woven throughout. For a long time while I was exploring Druidry I tried to hold onto that identity even as I was moving farther into the modern Pagan community. The breaking point for me came when we found out that one of our family’s closest friends had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a priest as a child. It brought the horror of that scandal home to me in a powerful, painful way. My decision to renounce the Catholic church was a political decision as much as anything else – there was simply no way I could continue to count myself a member of an institution that was silently complicit in that kind of corruption and abuse. But for many members of my family, it remains a source of pain, conflict and bitterness – and I’ve come to see that for many Catholics, a shared sense of betrayal and cynicism is just as much an aspect of belonging to the community as a shared sense of faith and tradition. It’s that kind of subtlety and complexity that I think many Pagans miss when they talk about Christianity as if it were some kind of monolithic mainstream monster.
I had an experience of confusion and doubt similar to yours when I traveled to Northern Ireland with a number of peace activists (most of whom were Christian) two years ago, and again when I attended the Wild Goose Festival (a progressive/emergent Christian festival where one of my friends was a presenter) last summer. On both occasions, I felt more support and acceptance for being a Pagan by these Christians than I often feel from fellow Pagans. At the Wild Goose Festival, I also met people who described themselves as “spiritually but not religiously Pagan” – who loved the spiritual insights to be found in modern Paganism but had been disillusioned and disenchanted by a lot of the in-fighting, and who admired the central place of social justice and environmental activism among many progressive Christian churches, walking the walk that many Pagan groups and organizations only talk about.
In the end, I call myself a Pagan (or, more precisely, a Druid) because my religious aesthetic sense and regular spiritual practices are undeniably shaped and informed by pre-Christian indigenously Celtic mythology and culture, nature-reverence and creative psychosocial ritual. I appreciate and enjoy the company of many Christians – but I don’t share with them a community body of practice and poesis the way I do with other Druids.
If Paganism feels like a construct that you’re trying to artificially wedge yourself into… maybe that’s okay. I can appreciate and learn from Christians even if I don’t share their practices, and there are many Christians who learn from and appreciate Pagan and polytheistic traditions without identifying themselves with that community. And there are tons of “spiritual but not religious” folks somewhere in the middle. I think the process of discernment and the search for authentic community only works if we go into it with open eyes and honest intention. Maybe there’s not enough of that – and a bit too much chest-thumping and proud declarations of community-identity and solidarity – in the Pagan community today. Paganism needs more people willing and courageous enough to ask themselves those hard questions, and even more importantly to live without definite, black-and-white answers. Wherever your process of discernment takes you, it will only benefit the community.
If you are curious about the community of progressive/emergent Christians out there, I have a few recommendations you might enjoy:
– Carl McColman, a friend of mine and a well-known author on Christian mysticism (he was raised Protestant, was a practicing Pagan for nearly a decade, and has gone back to Christianity now as a lay Catholic monk who explores mysticism and contemplative practice with an emphasis on Celtic Christianity)
– Richard Twiss, a Lakota/Sioux Native American Indian who describes himself as a “recovering evangelical” and grapples with the tension between Christianity and indigenous traditions
– Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and Phyllis Tickle are all people who belong to the “emergent church” movement that is tackling questions of community structure and the evolution of faith traditions in a modern/postmodern/post-postmodern society
Wow, you have spoken my heart much more eloquently than I could have. I struggle with many of these thoughts daily. I guess an institutional church. I was a Roman Catholic since infancy, delivers a prepackaged faith and set of traditions and rituals. I find myself searching and creating my own traditions and rituals and (foolishly) wonder if the are “correct” or “orthodox.” I also struggle with how to identify myself. “Pagan” sounds a bit to ‘non-christian’ for my liking. I don’t want ot be anything that identifies me in relation to christianity esp. since my faith and people predate christianity as does yours. Until I find a better term I practice Streghoneria. Thank you for sharing. Blessed Be!
Thank you for your comment, Nicaponzi. I’m glad the post resonated with you, and I appreciate you sharing your own experiences with us here.
Could you tell me a little bit about Streghoneria? I’m unfamiliar with that tradition.
Teo, I did email you at your Gmail address. I think you’ll find my answers to your questions here, especially the “Am I alone?” part, in that email.
And I shall respond, Mam Adar. The e-mail was as meaningful as was your original post. I think it led me to what I wrote this morning, and for that I’m profoundly grateful to you.
I have been following your blog for a few months now, and I am continually struck by how you raise the same questions I have about Paganism and faith in general. This particular post struck a harder chord with me, as it is something I have been struggling with on and off for the past 10 years–what do I believe, and where does it fit if in fact it fits anywhere?
Years ago, I was traveling home on a plane and sat next to a man. As it sometimes happens, we struck up a conversation, and in the course of it somehow we got on the topic of religion (which is very strange, because I don’t usually discuss such “hot” topics with complete strangers). He told me that he was a Christian, but did not subscribe to any denomination as he had never found one that resonated with him. His faith came through in our conversation as one of the truest and deepest I had ever seen in a person. I asked him if he ever got lonely for communion with people who believed as he did, and he said “No, I’m never lonely because God is always with me.”
I think his response is the key to any personal spiritual quest. If you discover what you truly believe, it does not matter what label you put on it, or that you may be the only one who believes what you do. If you experience true communion with your Divine, all the rest is irrelevant.
Blessings, and Comfort to you on your journey.
Hi Jody. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your readership, and I value your perspective here.
There’s a simplicity in the message of your neighbor; one I’d like to embody. The work I do on this blog may be leading me to that simple clarity. Hopefully. 🙂
Thank you for joining me in this process. In sharing our experiences with one another we gain clarity and insight, and we feel a little less alone.
Teo – you are certainly not alone. I was raised a Catholic, and my experiences with the Church eventually lead me to a Pagan Path (long story, another time perhaps). I believe in Christ, and think he had a wonderful message – I just don’t believe he is the only child of Godde (we all are), nor do I think his brutal death “saved” anyone. I will share a story though – my Uncle had passed away, and the following Samhain during meditation, I asked him if Jesus was mad at me for being a Pagan. The reply came back loud and clear – “Someone has to honor the Mother”. Blessings on your quest.
What a profound experience, Natalie. Thank you for sharing that here. Blessings to you!!
First, I want to start this by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with questioning your faith – without questions there is never a need to seek answers – and obviously there are questions you need answered – even if you haven’t found a way to form them all yet – questions are good – they help us to learn more about ourselves and the world around us – there is no shame in wanting assurance or wanting to just know more.
When in comes to being a convert – I understand completely – I grew up in a hardcore Pentecostal environment – but I never identified as a Pentecostal when asked unless asked directly and even then I was reluctant to admit it even at a young age – I always felt that there was something wrong but I was scared to question it – I was taught that questioning your faith in God was normal – but that it could basically get you sent to hell – that scared me – it took a lot of things I just plain didn’t like about the Christian path showing through my family to finally give me the guts to even admit that I was questioning it to myself – finally I’d done a lot of research online with the guilty sneakiness of a 12 year old boy looking up naughty photos before I finally went to a book store and picked up a book on witchcraft and I still expected a clap of lightening when I pulled the book off the shelf lol. But I am really glad I did – and it all started from questions.
What does being a pagan get you? To me – I think the right to question without guilt – the right to create traditions that have more meaning to you and to do things in a way that touches your spirit. Being pagan to me means recognizing that there are spirits in all the life around us from human to dog to tree and when you open yourself up to this its a beautiful thing – for the spirits of our animals and plants are so beautiful and pure. Your religious practices are supposed to touch your spirit – religion is that one thing thats purely for our souls and our happiness – if in practicing Druidry you are not finding that connection anymore perhaps you have changed to a point that this path no longer fits you the way it had in the beginning – no shame in that what-so-ever – or maybe something is going on in your life that is making you feel disconnected perhaps cause you don’t celebrate the way the rest of your family does? It could be a lot of things – there may be nothing wrong with your personal path at all – just a pothole.
When it comes to how Yule looked a lot like Christmas – so did mine for the most part – we had the decorated tree we opened presents – went to another families house for Christmas and I merrily told everyone Happy Holidays and yadda yadda – its what happens when you’re surrounded by Christians – but I found ways to celebrate what Yule means to me.
I can understand your hesitance in posting this – but honestly its refreshing – there are a lot of people out there who have no way or just cant find the words to say they feel as you do – by your being brave enough to post this – you assured someone that there’s nothing wrong with the way they question – cause they’re not alone. For that – I thank you!
Thank you, Andréa. I appreciate your comment, and I’m intrigued to learn about your personal experience transitioning from your Pentecostal upbringing to Paganism.
There’s something in your response that I’d like to spend some time with, and that is the value of “questioning without guilt.” I’ve never identified this as being exclusively Pagan, but I have thought of it as inherently valuable. That you’ve had that experience as a Pagan suggests to me that Paganism works for you — the evidence is in the experience.
I think Druidry is still resonant for me, but I’m still trying to discover how. I do most of my work in solitude, which has benefits and drawbacks. I think — as another commenter suggested — that perhaps this is a question of how I’m engaging with my spiritual practice. Perhaps I’ve been a bit too much in my head, and not so much in the world.
In any case, I’m grateful to you for sharing your perspective, and I’m glad the post spoke to you. I hope to hear more from you!
I have read your blogs for a while now, and I have to say
they seem like a cry for help, the only help I can give you though is some
advice so here it goes.
I don’t know why your pagan either. Do you have a burning
desire to worship and love for the gods? Maybe you are looking for a philosophical
outlook? Is it just a catchy way to
define your still developing spirituality? I don’t know, I can’t tell you what
you want or need. You keep talking about labels and converting; you say it
feels like a costume that you put on. You seem to be searching for a quick fix “the
right way”, but that’s not what faith is about.
I have seen you at some gathering and when you talk about
feeling separate from the group I think that’s because you hold yourself apart.
You don’t let yourself be a part of the community because YOU don’t know what
you want from it. (To tell the truth sometimes you seem to stand back and judge
everyone else and sometimes that makes people act in outrages ways) .
Deep down I think you know whether you are Pagan or not (the
same way and in the same place that you knew that you are gay.) you can try to
logic yourself into being something that you’re not, and you can succeed in the
short term. But the same way that your sexuality will always come out, and the
same way that cultural heritage is a part of you, your core faith will always
If you are pagan than be pagan, let go of the chains of Christianity
that hold you back, if you are Christian then go be that. Lots of people don’t
know but there are Christian mystery groups that have more “new age” leanings. If
neither of these paths is right find something else, the most important part is
that YOU figure out what you need because sitting around waiting for the
perfect thing just won’t work.
Hi Jorja. Thanks for the comment.
I’m not “sitting around waiting.” That’s exactly the opposite of what this process if for me. This is about engagement; about unpacking ideas, labels and practices of different traditions in search of what is most resonant for me. That you would suggest that I’m looking for a “catchy…quick fix” tells me that you may not be reading my writing very closely. This post isn’t a “cry for help.” My writing may be an expression of doubt and inquiry, but it isn’t written out of desperation.
There’s a way in which your statement, “If you are pagan than [sic] be pagan…if you are Christian then go be that,” is representative of a kind of rigidity that I was afraid I might encounter when I posted this. Working through religious practice and identity is not always as simple as making the choice to be one thing or another. The process *is the point*. My process unfolds through my writing, and I don’t think that you’re seeing that.
I admit that I have high expectations of ritual, and I’ve been let down from time to time, but I think you misread that as personal judgement. It is unfair to credit me for anyone else’s behavior — especially outrageous behavior.
We clearly work through things differently, Jorja, and if the only way you can engage in dialogue about my process is by suggesting that the process be tidied up in a simple fashion, perhaps this blog will never resonate with you. I’m ok with that. I have a feeling, though, that you’re aware of more nuance than you let people see.
I sense that I have offended you and I need to let you know that
was never my intention. I’m unsure what I can call many of your post but a cry
for help i.e. an expression that you are looking for the advice and/or support from
other to help you along your path. As a person that often feels like I’m
barking in the dark, I can empathize and sympathize with someone yelling out for
someone, anyone to answer, and let me know that I’m not alone. I’m not mocking
you for calling out like that, when so many of us do.
As to my comment as to quick fixes perhaps I didn’t read your post
with a close enough attention, but more likely I am referencing your comment
that “Being Pagan doesn’t feel very immediate to me.” Which I took to mean that
you felt less then 100% acclimated to the “pagan experience” (for lack of a
better term). In my own experience it took me years to feel comfortable in my
pagan skin. It’s taken me over a decade to come to a place where I feel like I
have some real understanding of my beliefs and the community. I know that some
people when they go to a Christian church feel welcomed and “at home” it doesn’t
sound like you are having that experience. It took me awhile to feel like I was
in the right place; there is nothing wrong with it. Sometimes though you have
to jump in with both feel and go for the gusto. You can’t wait for someone to
ask you to dance sometime you just have to jump on the floor and go for it.
When I suggested that you “be pagan or not” I didn’t mean to make
it sound black or white, what I meant is that I have a feeling that you (not
the general you like anyone but YOU, Teo, the person that I am talking to right
now,) deep down on some level know exactly what your faith is. (Please note
this is my own personal gnosis, I have no proof and it not a judgment this is
You say that you’re not sitting around but my question for you is
what are you doing? Attending rituals and meeting is great but personally I
have found when you want to feel something you need to doing it for yourself.
Are you writing and performing your own personal rituals? Are you doing a daily
devotion? Are you meditating, or doing journey work? Are you practicing a divinatory
system? If you are doing these things and they are not working are you changing
them? Again this is how I and other Pagans I know feel and practice our faith.
When there is a disconnect these are the things that I would tell anyone to
try. Many druids I know have a tendency to think about their faith so much that
they forget to feel it, so when I say your waiting for things to come to you
this is what I mean.
I guess I need to apologize to you, I thought your blog was a
place for you to express your feelings and get input from other
pagans/wiccan/druids/whatever. I did not realize that by not agreeing with you
that I would be seen as “militant activism” or “rigid”. If that’s what you
think of me then so be it, but I must confess that I am more than a little hurt
that you (Mr. non-judgmental) would flame me without a second thought.
Teo did not flame you. (If you think that’s flaming, you have been very sheltered.)
My reaction to both your original comment and your follow-up was to wonder what blog you’d been reading. While you make some valid points, they don’t seem to be particularly relevant to what I’ve seen in Teo’s blog. It feels to me more like you’re reacting to what you *expect* Teo to be saying, rather than what he has said. Again, this was just my personal impression, but you may want to consider what about how you’ve expressed yourself might have given me that impression.
when ever anyone comes to me to learn….I always tell them we are all students and teachers our whole lives….no one way is right…..read all you can ask all the questions you can and what feels right use in your life…what doesn’t leave someone will pick it up and use it in their lives…
I offten say “I don’t know nothing” yes a double negative I know…..but I am a mutt pagan…don’t like alot of the terms people use to discribe themselfs….hate labels….we are what we are and live how we live…..their must be some kind of balance….
good luck in your search for where you belong….and it may change from day to day…year to year…
love and light
None of us really knows what we’re doing, whether we’ve got it right or wrong. I tend to think that the only people who actually have it wrong are the ones who are so darn certain that they have it right that they feel everyone else must be wrong.
Paganism brings me a way of building a relationship with every “thing” of value in the cosmos: relationships with the earth, the deities, the rocks and trees, and abstract concepts like freedom and courage. This is something that no other religion seems to provide, that no other spirituality can draw out.
But, like any relationship, it can only feel immediate if you engage in it: otherwise, it is distant and irrelevant. Thus, I think, it is still about the practice: the giving of gifts, the maintenance of relationships, and the depth of expressed joy in another entity that Paganism will always shine.
Paganism is a Path – not a label. Actually, all the religions are paths. When people become more focused on defining the label instead of understanding that it is all supposed to be evolving, growth enriching experiences, then the path can become more restrictive than beneficial. These things don’t define and they shouldn’t. They are supposed to guide us.
First, props to you for being honest! When I first started on my journey as a Pagan, I felt bombarded by the labels, and questions like ” what kind of pagan are you” my answer has always been I just am. Yes I am a Witch, but being witch doesn’t necessarily make one pagan and the same in reverse. I learn where my heart leads and need no one to tell me Im wrong or Im right. I believe that if its YOUR path, then it cant be wrong, regardless of what paths others may be on. We are all right. Good luck to you and great post!
Thanks for your comment, Meg. I’m glad the post spoke to you, and I appreciate hearing about what your experience with “Pagan” and “Witch” has been. You also offer a good reminder — go where your heart leads. I should get that tattooed on my arm!
Paganism can have skeptics as much as any religion. If you never question your faith, you cannot have *faith*. Never considering a different spiritual path is like never looking at that hot ass walking by, it’s not being faithful, it’s being boring. You have to have options, alternatives, doubts in order to be able to dedicate (or re-dedicate) yourself to a path.
In any religious tradition it’s frustrating to run into someone who was raised in a faith, someone who has always taken it as the gospel truth, and never considered why. You cannot have religious dialogue with this person. But if you have taken the time to consider so many different truths you can really practice faith, by choosing which “truth” you have faith in.
Thanks, Pink. I appreciate this comment. I love the way you compare religion to a “hot ass walking by.” It’s PERFECT! That example really makes sense to me. The options and the diversity is what allows for you to better understand what it is that you truly love. I get that.
Interesting stuff around here. Though, at least by my working definition of ‘faith,’ I think it is possible to have that without questioning: it’s just not a quality of that faith to be *afraid to question belief.*
I think we’re raised to think ‘faith’ is really about ‘faith in a particular belief or ‘truth’ ‘ ..but I’m notso sure that always applies. I’ve met a number of people with that quality of faith aplenty who aren’t all that *interested* in the ‘belief’ thing. They just sort of live it. (You’re also unlikely to find too many of that sort of the Lady’s people here talking about it. 🙂 )
I like to point out there’s a difference between ‘belief in something’ and ‘having faith.’ I like to say, ‘Belief is thinking you know something, faith is not *needing* to.’
I mean, I like my beliefs: I’ve got a lot of them, and I’ve certainly worked hard on questioning them at about every turn, cause I’m that sort of person. But, I think at least as a Pagan, the ‘faith’ part is about being able to accept that it’s not all *about* ‘knowing a ‘the truth.’ ‘ Some of that’s about a sense of ‘control,’ and faith’s sometimes more about a sense of *trust.* And that trust is something that I’ve always found both a comfort an aid to a ‘skeptical’ eye: if you aren’t as attached to/afraid of outcomes, you’re less likely to be afraid of ‘seeing the wrong thing’ or ‘being wrong’ or ‘losing your faith,’ …the stakes aren’t as loaded.
‘Believing the right thing’ is sometimes a preoccupation of those who think that belief is really defining all reality. I think the Gods, not to mention our souls, are with us in ways other than belief-based. (Or at least, that’s my experience. ) I think in some ways, for me, ‘belief’ came harder than faith, or at least took longer.
I’ve got reason to believe that beings older and bigger than we are fully aware of self-same state of affairs, and I have reason to trust They aren’t in the business of demanding or being so contingent on *belief.* A lot of belief… Is for us. And for communicating.
Beliefs *matter,* but may not be the only thing. Maybe sometimes the ‘message’ is ‘This’ll do for now,’ even. 🙂
Apologies for how haphazard and wandering my reply is, I’m replying to the bits that caught me, in they order they caught me.
I feel like Pagans want to read about proud Pagans, or Pagans who are firm in their identity, and that those of us who are engaged in a discernment process should just get with the program already.”
I can’t speak for anyone else, obviously, but I find it *intensely* valuable to read posts like this one, which question what the author is doing, unpack the author’s perspective, put hard questions to faith — *any* faith — and thereby encourage me to ask myself the same questions. You help me explore my own faith by exploring yours so publicly.
“It would be simple to say that all one needs to do is firm up their religious identity – be a better Pagan, Witch, Druid, Asatru, or Christian – and then everything would be easier. But I don’t think it works that way. Identity and religious expression are much more complicated than a single word would imply.
Am I alone in this experience?”
No, you are most certainly not alone.
“I guess what I’m wonder is – What does being a Pagan get you. Personal freedom? The ability to put together your own tradition? Or, perhaps the chance to structure your life around an ancient tradition? In a way, Christianity offered that to me, too. So how is Paganism different? ”
Again, obviously I can’t speak to the generic “you”, but I can tell you why I’m Pagan and what it gets me.
In Paganism, I find a spiritual path that leads me to a deeper communion with the world around me. With the Earth Herself, as well as with all living things upon it. In Paganism, I find fundamental acceptance of the me that was, the me that is and the me that will be. Acceptance as I /am/, with encouragement toward growth that does not hinge on attempting to achieve /perfection/; acceptance that the growth I experience does not imply that I was flawed before and am /better/ after.
Christianity, to my experience, offers something similar but not the same.
There’s a difference between the communion with Nature that my Paganism leads me toward from the notion of having stewardship over the Earth, for instance — a Christian doctrine that gets my hackles up a bit.
The doctrine of sin and salvation, that the actions of another can decide the fate of my soul, is something that I cannot really wrap my brain around, and it causes me no end of difficulty in trying to understand Christianity. The notion that the Divine is constantly measuring me and constantly finding me wanting, thus sent a sacrifice into the world to make up for what I cannot *ever* provide for myself… really, I find that terribly depressing.
Wonderful comment, Áine, and thank you for your sharing so much of your own experiences. I’m glad to know the posts resonate with you.
I feel like you’ve given me a lot to think about, and you bring up some wonderful points about the Christian doctrines. I have a feeling that we’re entering into a larger conversation that will play itself out over many posts in the future.
I really value your feedback, and I’m grateful that you contribute so fully in this conversation. Blessings to you.
Not alone, nope. I think anyone exploring their faith has moments such as this. As people grow, learn and experience, they change as individuals. It makes sense that faith would be somewhat fluid as well. What/who you were 5 or 10 years ago (or sometimes 6 months ago!) is not what/who you are today. To never grow or explore or change would be a bigger concern for me.
Thanks, Mrs. B.
Sometimes I wonder if this is a single moment for me, or more of a state of spiritual exploration. It sometimes feels as if *this* is the way I’m going to live a spiritual life — in a constant state of discernment and searching. I could be wrong, but it feels that way.
In any case, I appreciate your comment and your support.
Well if they’re going to fry you I guess I’ll jump in the pot with you. I think my problem is labeling my experience. Growing up as Christian (Lutheran in my case) I had questions they had no answers for, I had experiences they had no answers for, I had a connection with Deity they had no answers for. I call myself Pagan because it calls for no answers I do not have myself. I see Christians pointing fingers at my “made up” religion and I’m good with that. If there is any form of review/judgement at the end of this life I will proudly stand up and take full responsibility for who I was and what I did/not accomplish. I feel no compunction to blame/credit any other human for telling me what to think/do/say/believe. You can’t make someone believe something they don’t. Paganism gives me the rope I need to swing through the trees, view things from different perspectives, lower myself into the depths of my soul, and climb out into the sunshine again. Paganism is the loosest box I can find, the lest restrictive label in a world that must have labels. And to anyone that doesn’t get that, I have a label for them too 🙂
Thank you so much for your comment, Ibyogi. What you say about Paganism being “a rope,” and “the loosest box” really makes a lot of sense to me. I feel that others may with to make the box a little more air tight, but I’m grateful to hear from someone who finds comfort in the freedom it provides. I also appreciate your conviction — hearing it paired with the looseness and fluidity of your expression of Paganism is a refreshing thing.
“Am I alone in this experience?”
Nope! Someone asked me to define “faith” for them and my answer was to
the effect that faith is a decision made because of one’s doubts. In
other words, if I didn’t doubt my decisions to identify as a Pagan in
general and as a technowitch in specific (I don’t even know what that
means yet, frankly), then it wouldn’t represent faith.
I have faith that my decisions to live my life in the way that I’ve chosen is both (a) Pagan and (b) appropriate for me at this time. But, I don’t know what the future holds. And, because I don’t, my faith choices are a constant re-evaluation of what I do, how I do it, and whether I want to do it a different way. These questions are not only normal, they’re probably pretty dammed important!
Thank you for your comment, David. It’s heartwarming to read that there are others who are engaged in this process.
It sounds as though you’re in dialogue with your doubts, and that *that* is what faith is to you. How do you go about the dialogue? Do you journal? Talk with other Pagans or “technowitches”? What’s your process like?
Give me about 12 hours and technowitch.org will be online 🙂 My goal was a 2012 release, but I drove to Philadelphia to visit my family on a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing. I’m hoping to finish it up tonight.
As for the rest of my dialog, it usually involves talking to myself on buses while staring into space. Yeah, I’m that guy 🙁
No, you are not alone.
Everyone lives their own unique path, which is no less than valid, and so do not worry about disappointing anyone else by your experience. I think you bring up a feeling common to most people across the board, regardless of faith, etc. For many the calling is for an “evolved” faith, others a return to the true roots before most people became colonized by the church. Your feelings are announcing a deeper yearning. Studying and learning as much as you can about the path you’ve chosen should reveal your life’s deeper meanings. Or it will lead you to your destiny. Yes, joining a group can feel very costumy in the beginning. Gardening your own yard thoroughly (metaphorically or literally) will turn out the richest self-realizations and how you choose best to live your life.
Thank you for your comment, Naya. I appreciate hearing about your experience with the language. I’m curious to know what kind of baggage the label “Pagan” has for you. Would you be willing to unpack that a little further?