One practice or many?

Photo by Kurt Thomas Hunt,

Last week, there was a significant debate over on Sermons from the Mound about whether it’s possible to fully participate in two faith traditions.  As someone with training in — and deep commitment to — two traditions, I tend to fall down on the side of yes, but I also believe that people vary.  My choice to pursue two traditions comes from a lot of things, and but circumstance deserves significant credit.  I find that my second tradition fills in spaces that my first tradition doesn’t lay claim to.  At the same time, I was almost two years into training in my second tradition before I even began to see the possibility that the two would converge, and it is only through a fortuitous combination of circumstances that I had the time to put in to pay those dues.  Although everything I do magically is grounded in my traditions, most of what I share here is designed to be adaptable: to be used by solitaries piecing together their own traditions as well as by people working within a strong community of established practice.  I believe in the power of depth, of repetition, and of continuity, and I also believe those are things that we can — and, perhaps for some of us, should — create for ourselves.

Over on Yvonne’s post, people have suggested a number of both theological and practical factors that might help (having few other significant commitments) or harm (choosing traditions that are theologically at odds) one’s ability to combine two different traditions, and as I was reading, I thought of one thing that is fundamental to my understanding of myself in two traditions: really great metaphors.

One of the things I love about many flavors of Paganism, including both of the traditions in which I have training, is the use of song, story, poetry, music, ritual, and other arts to convey meaning at levels beyond the rational.  I would even go so far as to suggest that this is one of the strengths that Pagan practice in particular has to offer: engagement at the level of feeling, sense, and embodiment.  For that reason, all other logistical and metaphysical questions notwithstanding, finding a great metaphor for the ways that my two practices combine has been critical for me.

Here is mine: one of my traditions is in my blood, and the other is in my bones.  This makes theological sense to me in ways that are specific to those two practices, but it’s also a deeply resonant image.  And the more I dive into it, the more ways I find it both beautiful and useful.

I will further suggest that this is an important way to strengthen Pagan culture and our own practices: whenever possible, choose to use the tools of your spirituality not just to make or interpret choices, but to describe and frame the world and your understanding of it.

I’d love to hear about what you do: do you draw your practice primarily from one tradition, combine a few, or draw on many?  How did that come to pass?  What story or metaphor helps you frame that choice or its results?

Why I Am A Witch
Slow magic
77 Things That Don’t Completely Suck (2013)
About Sarah Twichell

Sarah Twichell is a witch, writer, foodie, musician, semi-competent knitter, aspiring runner, and all-around logistical wizard.

  • Christine Kraemer

    Right here is one the things I most want at Patheos Pagan — not just a series of interesting but unrelated blogs, but thoughtful Pagans, polytheists, and allies in active dialogue. Cheers.

  • Joanne

    I am deep into two traditions and I use a martial arts metaphor. Back when I was studying karate, we were told that our skills would develop like this: First, we learned the Way of One Way. For any attack, there would be one way to deal with it. As our skills grew, we learned the Way of Many Ways. Any attack (or problem) can have several different defenses (or solutions) and we needed to apply what was most effective. As we reached the peak of our skills, we finally reached the Way of No Way. The attack/problem by its very nature tells you how to respond, and you just do the correct thing without thinking.

    Spiritual practice is like this for me. Sure, I am very well-trained in One Way, but there are Many Ways to approach the sacred. One day I hope to reach a point where these ways converge for me, and I can see the level where all practices and beliefs are essentially the same. The Way of No Way is when I simply see what *is*.

    • Sarah Twichell

      That’s a lovely reminder that there are lots of valid paths! I see something that could be called fundamental unity between spiritual paths — we all basically want to lead good and meaningful lives, right? — but I also am a lover of the differences and details that make each path unique, and I’d hate to see us give them up, even to get to a shared core of practice.

  • eric

    I was raised Mormon and didn’t find what I was looking for, I ran from there to Thelema and that didn’t work for me either. I did fall in the love with the idea of correspondences and seeking links and connection between disparate systems and the idea of alchemy, of recombing the things around me in a way that they served me better. In my 30s I started worshipping Brighid to exclusion and then some years later I found hoodoo and became obsessed with syncretism and that kind of looped me back to the beginning. I have tools from each of these experiences and I use them all, Christian Mysticism, Celtic Magick, Hoodoo, Thelema and Hinduism are all priceless tools to me and they all define my path. It was hard for me to reach a spot where I could give myself permission to Worship Brighid and Christ and Ganesha but it was worth it for me. I don’t seek labels or traditions, I seek to to keep seeking and who I am and what I beleive must remain fluid and organic or I stagnate plus I’m an easily bored Gemini. A Celtic Recon friend commented to me recently that I ‘miss a lot’ the way I do things, maybe there is something to that but then, she’s missing things on my path. Brighid is the center of my wheel, my core, my guide and I trust her to light my paths and I go forth and find new things and if they serve I keep them and if they do not I discard them. I don’t know what that makes me, I’m getting more comfortable not knowing.

    • Sarah Twichell

      Thanks for chiming in. I think you’re articulating a surprisingly common path among Pagans: finding lots of traditions with things to offer but none that feels entirely right on its own, and so creating a personal path. I am last in line to judge any practice that’s working for someone, but it does make it tricky to find the right words to tell other people about what it is that we do!

  • Michelle

    I love that you have a picture of the chalice well here–a place that has a mixed spiritual heritage. and is a powerful pilgrimage location for both Christians and pagans. One of the things I’ve always found fascinating is the syncretism that emerged between christianity and local pagan traditions… the way that the two traditions were both incorporated into a coherent whole that could be meaningful to people (at least until religious leaders and orthodoxy opposed this syncretism). This point of intersection (particularly for me, between druidry/celtic paganism and catholicism) is where I’ve personally felt the greatest spiritual resonance. I think sometimes the blending of two or more traditions/practices, and sometimes, the areas of tension and contradiction, are what leads to great spiritual insight–that in trying to understand and reconcile a paradox, you get a glimpse of something beyond it.