Pagan, Druid and UU

There’s been a lot of chatter in the past few weeks on Pagan identity and on who and what is or isn’t Pagan. More recently Yvonne Aburrow has had one series and one post on the challenges of practicing more than one religion at the same time. And Sam Webster really stirred things up with his declaration that “no, you can’t worship Jesus Christ and be a Pagan.”

Yet as the header of this blog proclaims, I am an active part of three religious traditions: Pagan, Druid, and Unitarian Universalist.

I don’t propose to have a universal answer to all this discussion, but what I do works for me. I’d like to talk about what I do, why it works, and what I see as its limitations.

Spiral Dance – Beltane 2010

What I Do

I’ve always had a love of Nature and a fascination with magic. Once I discovered Wicca it was inevitable I’d start down this path. Wicca ended up not working for me, but when I came across Druidry I knew I had found my home.

After a while I realized I had done all I could do on my own – I needed a group. I didn’t want a Wiccan coven and there were no Druid groves of any order in North Texas. Somewhere in all my readings I had come across CUUPS – the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. I went online, found Denton CUUPS, went to check it out and never left.

As I got more involved with the group, the leaders began to emphasize the need for CUUPS members to be involved in the UU congregation. This has always been one of the keys to a successful CUUPS chapter – be a part of the congregation, not a group that uses the building. So I started going to the occasional Sunday service.

And I liked it.

I liked the emphasis on making this world better rather than hoping to qualify for a better world after death. I liked the lack of dogma and the openness to new traditions. I liked being able to connect to the better parts of the religion of my childhood without being told I had to believe things I couldn’t honestly believe. I liked the weekly services.

It wasn’t perfect but almost everyone was friendly and welcoming and I found another home. I joined the Worship Committee, where my interest in ritual was a good fit. I served as Congregational President, on the Ministerial Search Committee, as President again, and now I’m back on the Worship Committee.

While doing this, I also served as an officer in Denton CUUPS and I started the correspondence course of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I completed the OBOD course in 2010, and in 2011 I began a 3-year term on the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. And as almost five years of blog posts will attest, I’ve been exploring all three traditions every chance I get.

When it comes to what I do, I am fully engaged as a Pagan, as a Druid, and as a Unitarian Universalist.

Why It Works

This combination of traditions works because they share common values. Pagans and Druids would likely use other words, but most would agree with UUs’ emphasis on the inherent worth and dignity of every person; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; respect for the interdependent web of all existence; and the rest of the UUA’s seven principles.

The combination works because none of these traditions make any claims of exclusive truth. I understand the people who reacted negatively to Sam Webster’s insistence that Pagans can’t worship Jesus, but the fact is that traditional Christianity claims to be the only way to find God. Those who criticize the Pope for his refusal recognize indigenous and Pagan religions as legitimate fail to understand the Catholic church’s longstanding belief that it alone possesses Truth. The Baptist church I grew up in taught that born again Christians were going to heaven and everyone else (including most Catholics) were going to hell.

While you can certainly worship Jesus as one god among many, that’s not traditional Christianity. I don’t know how you can simultaneously recite the Nicene Creed and worship the gods and goddesses of our ancestors.

I don’t want to reopen that particular can of worms. My point is that Paganism, Druidry, and Unitarian Universalism present no such conflicts. Some Pagans may not care for references to the Bible and some UUs may not care for pouring libations, but those dislikes do not rise to the level of exclusive claims to Truth.

It works because all three make use of generic spiritual practices. Meditation is meditation. Prayer is prayer. Walking is walking. Service is service. Each has its own emphasis, its own flavor, but I can say the Druid’s Prayer in any of them. Picking up trash on the side of the road honors all of them. Experiencing wonder and awe in Nature is part of all of them.

The main reason this combination has worked for me is the people. The vast majority of UUs have been accepting and curious. They may not all care for Pagan rituals, but the Pagan-themed Sunday services I’ve led have been very well received. Most Pagans are happy to have allies and supporters, even if they see things differently. And the Druids I’ve met have been the most open and welcoming group of people I’ve ever encountered.

I know some people have had bad experiences with one or more of these groups. Mine haven’t been perfect, but on the whole, they’ve been very very good.

Limitations

The diagram to the right is a rough approximation of the sources and expressions of beliefs and practices of typical Pagans, Druids and Unitarian Universalists. There’s a lot of overlap among my three traditions, and that overlap makes practicing all three relatively easy.

But as I’ve gone deeper into my spiritual practices, I’ve found myself moving toward the edges of these circles.

While Unitarian Universalism affirms “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder,” direct religious experience is not a strong point of most UUs (though there are some notable exceptions). More importantly, it’s not a practice UUs know how to teach. As my own practice moves towards more intense communion with the old gods and goddesses, the UU spiritual tool kit becomes less helpful and I increasingly draw on Pagan techniques.

My sources of inspiration are coming increasingly from the Druid tradition. I’ve been going back and rereading Celtic literature I read but didn’t really “get” on my first pass. I just finished an anthology from the Druid Revival (I’ll have a review in a few days). Morpheus Ravenna pointed me toward a Ph.D dissertation on “Goddesses in Celtic Religion” that’s been extremely helpful. This isn’t just information to satisfy my curiosity, it’s inspiration that shows me what others have done and points me toward what I can do.

If I worried about what the UUs thought about the edgy Pagan stuff or what the Pagans thought about the traditional UU stuff, or if I tried to fit everything I did into that center section where all three circles overlap, I’d miss out on a lot of magic, both literal and metaphorical. More importantly, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m called to do.

The Future

I plan to continue fully participating in all three of my religious traditions. They’re all meaningful and helpful to me, and I have close friends in them all. There are no incompatible differences between any of them.

But there are things that one tradition does much better than the others – at least for me. And in those cases, I will continue to dive deeply into that tradition and stretch the edge of that circle out, if only a little.

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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 has 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.

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/ Yvonne Aburrow

    Hi John, this is a great exploration of combining Paganism and UUism, thanks for posting. I think it works really well for you because you do your Pagan stuff within Uuism. In the UK, where I live, the Unitarian Earth Spirit Network does not have chapters the way CUUPS does, so the route you describe was not open to me, and besides, I value Wicca and my participation in it too much to let go of it. So I ended up following my two traditions separately, which is much harder than fusing them into a practice of coinherence, as you have done.

    • John Beckett

      Each CUUPS chapter is a little different. Denton CUUPS operates as a small group ministry of the church, the same as the Buddhist meditation group, the men’s group, the women’s group and such. Our group activities are self-directed, but we’re all active members of the church and also participate in its activities. It works for us.

  • http://inhumandecency.org/christine Christine Kraemer

    Love this.

    I get the impression that a lot of Pagans are searching for their one true spiritual home and are reluctant to commit to any group that doesn’t fit the bill. No real-life community is perfect– but I think the principle of “loving the one(s) you’re with” isn’t much honored right now.

    Sherry Turkle wrote a book recently about how people are increasingly using internet technology to limit intimacy (partially because the constant assault of communication can be so overwhelming). But she also thinks that because of these high stress levels, people are actually coming to prefer technological actions (like with various forms of AI) because of their greater predictability. Human beings are unpredictable and draining. I have to admit, I see a connection between this tendency and the Pagan reluctance to commit to their imperfect local communities.

    • John Beckett

      Thanks, Christine – “love the one you’re with” is very relevant here. Our mainstream society preaches “hold out for The Right One” in so many ways: in careers, in relationships, in religion and spirituality. We spend all our time searching and never have time to actually build anything of lasting value.

      I’m a searcher, but I’m also a builder. There is great value in taking something good but imperfect and working on it.

      That’s one of the main reasons I’ve been married to the same person for 25 years. We both accepted less than perfect partners and made something of the relationship.

    • http://inhumandecency.org/christine Christine Kraemer

      *interactions, not actions

  • Valerie

    Thank you for an insightful post. I came to Unitarian Universalism about three years ago searching for a complement to my Wiccan path. I am even in seminary right now, exploring the prospect of ministry. I think membership in a Unitarian Universalist congregation can help people who are frustrated about the overwhelming emphasis on magic that exists in many NeoPagan religious groups, and the free and responsible search for meaning and truth is definitely a axiom that any Neopagan can understand!

    • John Beckett

      Like every other religious path, Unitarian Universalism isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked well for me, and it is a good fit with Paganism. I sometimes say I’m practicing Paganism in a UU context.

  • Lisa Dunn

    Loved this blog post! I am a Pagan, a Wiccan, and a UU, and I also love the way I can fit all three systems into my life, and I find that doing this really stretches me. I don’t expect any one of them to fit me perfectly, because if they did I think I would quit growing and become stuck in my box. Thank you for sharing this!

    • John Beckett

      Lisa, I agree – it’s not about finding a path that fits you perfectly. Or, as some like to do, insisting that what fits you perfectly is the “proper” expression of that path.

  • Elnigma

    Good article! I like your circle graph, and the view that people are included within the circles, they sometimes are more near one edge or the other.
    (And, no appropriation in this post. Thank you for that, too)

    • John Beckett

      Thanks, Elnigma. I try to use terms within my own tradition whenever possible. When it comes to appropriation, people have been doing it ever since the first tribe visited the tribe down the river. My rules are 1) don’t pretend to be something you aren’t, 2) credit your sources, and 3) steal from the best.

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asenseofplace Elinor Prędota

    Hi John. It’s great to see that you and others are able to combine different traditions in this way. As an Interfaith Minister as well as a Witch and Pagan Priestess, this makes my heart glad.

    In writing that last sentence, I’ve also partly answered my own confusion by what you mean by ‘Pagan’ here. On reading your title, I thought it odd that you included ‘Pagan’ as a tradition, when I am used to using it and seeing it used as an overarching category, including many different traditions and paths with a variety of shared or partially shared characteristics.

    Partly, I see that you are using ‘Pagan’ here as interchangeable with the CUUPS tradition. But partly also I see that I use ‘Pagan’ as a general descriptor of the spiritual direction I come from as a Priestess: for me this means a combination of a variety of polytheisms, Goddess worship and appreciation of sacred nature similar to that described by Christine in her recent blog post.

    I’ve never known a CUUPS group, so I’d be interested to know what’s included in that Pagan tradition, theologically and practically speaking.

    • John Beckett

      Hi Elinor. I agree – I think you and I are using “Pagan” in a similar way, as an overarching category and also as a general descriptor of “the Pagan and Paganish stuff I do”. That second sense is definitely how I was using it in this post.

      As with Unitarian Universalism in general, there are a wide variety of sources, beliefs and practices among CUUPS chapters and CUUPS members. There’s a lot of Nature and Goddess worship, as well as some classical occultism. Much of the liturgy is Wiccanish, but you could say that about most groups with “Pagan” in their name. There’s a strong current of Humanistic Paganism although I’ve never heard that exact term used in a CUUPS setting. As a hard polytheist, I’m a definite minority, though I wouldn’t call us rare.

      The CUUPS National website is badly out of date. We’ve got a complete redesign in the works, but it’s still a couple months from launch. When it’s done, it will do a much better job of presenting CUUPS and its take on Paganism to the world.

  • http://lorriepaige.blogspot.com LorriePaige

    Awesome story!

    I too am a pagan and UU. I am a Wiccan but I haven’t found a Wiccan coven to join. One day I was listening to this iTunes Pagan Podcast (“Psychic Teachers”) and they mentioned many Pagans attend UU churches. I respect these podcasters so I decided to visit a UU church in September last year. I then became an official member this January–I LOVE IT! And best of all, I can still keep my faith a as Wiccan because UU’s encourages one to seek their own faith. UU is actually a “supplement” for ANY religious faith.

    John, another great iTunes podcast is called “From the Edge of the Circle”, which is hosted by a druid. You might like him; he’s great! He calls himself “Tommy Elf”. He has a blog too at: http://edgeofcircle.blogspot.com

    • John Beckett

      Hi, Lorrie. I know Tommy – he lives in the DFW area too. He keeps trying to get me on his podcast and keeps having disasters when we try to get together to record an interview. We’re going to give it another try some time soon.

    • TommyElf

      LorriePage…..thank you for mentioning the podcast. As John noted, he and I know one another. We met face-to-face at a Dallas Pagan Pride Day…2010, was it John?? I’m hoping to get some schedule time clear with John (I think we’ve got the date down…now I just need to insure that I am the one doing the driving to get there). Just one point of note: “hosted by a druid” — I would LOVE to claim that title, but I am still working on my Bardic grade. I’m a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids — just not a Druid (yet). :)

      –TommyElf

      • TommyElf

        …and I just notice my mis-spelling of your last name….sheesh….I need a spell-checker program for my fingers…

  • Jireh

    John ,
    Me thinks that you should refocus your energy on seeking JESUS because my friend the path you and the followers are heading down is the path to spiritual death that leads to eternal death.I ‘ll share a cartoon which depicted a person at a crossroads and signs that said ” Yahweh or Your Way ? “. Jesus is the way , the truth and the life. Jeremiah was one of the OT prophets who pleaded that people not worship false “gods ” , Amos said to ” seek Yahweh and live “. John , Jesus loves you so much that He shed his blood and died so that you may have eternal life. ( John 3 :16 ). Why would anyone reject this free gift ? Selah

    • John Beckett

      Jireh, welcome to the Pagan channel. The gods and goddesses of our ancestors may be many things, but they are not “false” – they as real as Jesus, Yahweh, and the other deities of the Abrahamic traditions. Our ancestors understood different people have different languages, different customs, and different gods. None are inherently “better” than the others, only more or less meaningful and helpful.

      I have great respect for Jesus – we could all do much worse than loving our gods with all our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves. But Cernunnos, Danu and Morrigan connected with me in a way that Jesus never did. They have my heart and my service.

  • Bess

    I just discovered your blog and appreciate this article. I come from a different direction…I was UU before my feet were firmly put on the Path. It is because of the support of my UU community that I found the safety to explore being a Pagan. I can’t imagine, for me, one without the other.

  • Sigmundr

    I am, a wanderer. Like Odin.
    But also solitary on my “worship” and don’t think I ever will join any community.
    Because honestly being so diverse and unique in my beliefs it’s hard to find a group.

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