Pagans in Interfaith Dialogue
Half-baked, you might say.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We live in a society in which information is communicated by the sound bite: the short, pithy, to the point, statement of fact. What makes the Jerry Falwells of the world so popular with the media is their ability to give short, scriptural answers to complex social questions. We here at the Parliament, as serious practitioners of our respective faiths, know that religion and spirituality are much more complex than that; that any spiritual path worth its salt is deeper than can be conveyed in a sound bite.
So it is with the questions asked by the BAIC and others.
Whom do we worship?
To us, the word "worship" implies submission to a higher authority. We do not submit to the Gods; rather we recognize Their greater power and wisdom and invite that power and wisdom to manifest through us in our lives. Our practices seek to make us one with the Divine. We find it in ourselves and each other. Under those circumstances, we honor and venerate the Gods, but few Witches would feel comfortable with a word like "worship."
To whom do we pray?
To most of us, prayer is seen either as a communing with an omnipotent being who will do what he wills regardless of the intent of the prayer or as a beseeching to that being to intercede on one's behalf. In contrast, most Witches achieve the same ends by magick, but magick is seen as an interaction between the Gods and the magician. The magician through the use of natural powers focused by will, may well be able to achieve the desired ends on his or her own (whether that is healing, a job, or whatever), but by opening to the Divine invites the appropriate Gods and/or Goddesses to lend their aid as well, accepting that the desired goal may be opposed by the Gods and the magical work come to naught.
What do we believe?
Neopagan Witchcraft may be one of the very few religious paths that does not require a leap of faith. The Craft never says "Believe, and then the miracles will happen." The Craft invites newcomers to learn and try traditional techniques for achieving a communion with the Divine. If you try them and they fail, you look elsewhere to fill your spiritual needs. But if you try them and they work, your experience of the Gods is a personal fact; no more a "belief" than is your knowledge that the sky is blue.
What is our Bible?
Many of our traditions (or denominations) have writings, called a Book of Shadows, that have been handed down to us. These writings do not contain the wisdom of the ancients; rather they are records of the practices that those before us used to communicate with deity. Sometimes our Elders have recorded what they experienced as a result. Each of us uses, changes, and adapts these practices to suit the needs of our times, and in turn records our insights for those who will come after.
But the experience of the Divine is intimate, personal. While I may learn from another's experience, mine will never be quite the same as theirs. And so, no matter how ancient the source or how honored the Elder, these writings do not carry the authority of scripture; they cannot carry such authority. To grant a traditional text such authority would be to say that this is it, the truth for all time. But we are a nature religion, and a fundamental truth of nature is that everything changes.
Where are our churches?
Someone asking this really means, "Where is there a building that I can go see?" Once again, a nature religion has a somewhat different view. Tony Kelly of Wales wrote:
Where are the Pagan shrines? And where do the people gather? Where is the magic made? And where are the Goddess and the Old Ones? Our shrines are in the fields and on the mountains, in the stars and in the wind, deep in the greenwood and on the algal rocks where two streams meet. (Pagan Musings, 1970)
Don Frew is a Wiccan Elder and High Priest of Coven Trismegiston in Berkeley, CA. He is a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess and has been representing the Craft in interfaith work for over twenty-five years. He serves on the Board of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, on the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, and in the Assembly of the Parliament of the World's Religions. He is the founder and Director of the Lost and Endangered Religions Project, a non-profit group aiding marginal religious communities around the globe. For the past twenty years, Frew and his wife Anna Korn have traveled the globe investigating and studying texts and sites relating to the origins of the modern Craft movement. They have presented on the subject at Pagan conferences around the world.