This World vs. The Otherworld

I’m a semi-regular commenter on the Dallas Morning News Religion Blog, and one of the things I frequently criticize about orthodox religion is its lack of this-world relevancy. Baptists make a big deal about biblical inerrancy, Catholics make a big deal about being the one true church and none of that matters much to the average person in the pew who’s looking for something to help him or her get through a difficult week and live a better life.

But when it comes to my own beliefs and practices, I seem to be much more interested Otherworldly matters: mystical experiences, communing with the gods, group worship and ritual, and magical workings.

And so I wonder – am I practicing what I preach? Do I have my priorities mixed up? Should I be putting more effort into, say, environmental sustainability and less into personal spirituality? Should our circles and rituals focus more on increasing awareness of social issues and providing opportunities for service?

I know, the “correct” answer is that we need balance. Focusing too much on the mundane world can lead to materialism and a loss of a sense of wonder and awe and a belief in something greater than yourself. Focusing too much on magic and the Otherworld can lead to escapism. That problem isn’t exclusive to Pagans – my Baptist father used to complain about Christians who were “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.”

I guess what I’m really asking is whether Paganism should be primarily a here-and-now religion or a mystery religion. Or perhaps it should be a two-tiered religion. Should we speak to the public and beginners in general terms about gender-balanced Divinity and the interconnectedness of all things, and save Drawing Down the Moon, divination, and traveling beyond the Veil for those who show a true affinity for such things? That seems to be what I’m doing.

How do you strike the balance between living your principles in a mundane way and exploring the magic and mystery?

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • Batbogey

    I used to think about magic in the spiritual sense a lot.

    I wouldn’t say that I’ve put energy into balancing out the practice of my religion and my need for the magic, but then, I’ve found lately that my work in church leadership has become its own spiritual practice.

    Here lately,”magic” happens, in religious terms, when something about the process of change suddenly makes sense. Or in the moments when I really believe it’s about the whole, not the “me.”

    Not entertaining, but magical in its own way.