Because We Believe?

I was chatting with my High Priest yesterday about how there is no one true Paganism, and why it is trad Craft practices the way it does. I hit on an idea in that conversation I’d like to expand on, and I’d love reader feedback on it because it may be a bit controversial and I may put my foot in my mouth trying to unpack the idea.

All Pagan traditions practice differently. Some are stricter than others regarding practice. The tradition I am studying and practicing is a very strict form of traditional Witchcraft. My HP and I were talking about self-identifying, and the problems that can sometimes create, not that the initiate or restricted membership structure is a surefire answer to those problems. When touching on the subject of elitism my HP rejected the idea that had anything to do with the initiate structure or oathbound materials.

To paraphrase what he said, the world works in X way and we are trying to accomplish X goal, and that goal requires commitment, accord and trust. So for us to accomplish X goal we must work in X way with people we trust because the universe works in X way.

Essentially, all of our tradition hinges on our believing the world works in X way. It hinges on belief.

Considering all the talk of practice, orthopraxy, atheists finding benefit from Pagan culture and the number of humanist Pagans out there, the idea that a Pagan practice could hinge on belief kind of made my head spin. Coming from a Baptist background the concept isn’t unfamiliar to me, but I had for so long divorced it from all things Pagan it kind of blew me away for a minute.

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So think about this for a moment: is your religious practice reflective of what you truly believe? Must you practice the way you do because it is what you believe? Based on what you truly believe, can you change your practice?

In some way, the idea that practice is formed in accordance with belief makes sense. Druids do X because they believe Y. But then there are the eclectics, and this is where I get confused. Do eclectics practice in such diverse and idiosyncratic ways because it fits their beliefs? Or, and yes I know this is a touchy idea, does a lack of consistency in practice perhaps denote a lack of belief?

I’m questioning my own beliefs and examining my own soul at the moment. My tradition casts the circle a certain way, and they will never cast it any other way, because the way we cast reflects how we believe the universe works. We believe in magic, therefore we have to take magic seriously. We believe in the Gods, although what we believe about them may vary from Witch to Witch, and so we have to take them seriously. We believe in the four classical Western elements, and that fifth which is spirit, and so we have to take them seriously. If we did not believe in these things, we would not practice the way we do.

I have sat through the classes on metaphysical and magical theory. I have learned and recited the statements of belief that reflect the core teachings of my tradition. I have undergone the ordeal of initiation and taken dread oaths. Yet, now, sitting here as a “baby Witch” I find myself suddenly confronted with 12 years of eclectic practice, much of which is not in accordance with the beliefs of my tradition. I find myself having to examine my own soul and sort through the flotsam and jetsam of my past to make sense of this new direction I’ve taken.

Do you truly believe in the cosmology or theology of your practice, or is it just symbolism? Does your belief prescribe a way of practicing your religion? Do you ever wonder if you think the way you practice doesn’t matter, then maybe it means you don’t really believe in the path you have chosen? If you practice a magical tradition, does someone not really believing but just going through the motions for the sake of symbolism bother you? Where do you draw the line between emphasizing belief and becoming thought police?

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • fffh_moderator

    “Or, and yes I know this is a touchy idea, does a lack of consistency in practice perhaps denote a lack of belief?”

    I wouldn’t phrase it as a lack of belief but rather as the presence of doubt.  Granted, I think doubt is a requirement for faith; if we didn’t doubt (i.e., if we had proof beyond doubt), then faith is unnecessary for belief.  I tend to be fairly solitary because, frankly, I doubt that many of the ceremonial techniques that I’ve encountered are necessary.  In many cases, I choose specifically to involve myself within those structures because I’m working with people who (maybe) don’t share that doubt, but in my own practice, I do things meaningful to me.  Those things don’t have to adhere to a specific tradition because the only requirement here is that they be meaningful.

    On the other hand, it’s taken me over 10 years on this path to begin to find some consistency with respect to my practice.  Maybe the ratio of seekers to sages* causes some of the problem; so many people lack the personal relationship with an HP that you found (myself included) that we’re forced to become eclectic to seek something that is meaningful.  When we do find that meaning, we can settle down either into an established tradition or into one of our own making that might only ever be for ourselves. 

    * alteration for the win!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dashifen David Dashifen Kees

    “Or, and yes I know this is a touchy idea, does a lack of consistency in practice perhaps denote a lack of belief?”

    I wouldn’t phrase it as a lack of belief but rather as the presence of doubt.  Granted, I think doubt is a requirement for faith; if we didn’t doubt (i.e., if we had proof beyond doubt), then faith is unnecessary for belief.  I tend to be fairly solitary because, frankly, I doubt that many of the ceremonial techniques that I’ve encountered are necessary.  In many cases, I choose specifically to involve myself within those structures because I’m working with people who (maybe) don’t share that doubt, but in my own practice, I do things meaningful to me.  Those things don’t have to adhere to a specific tradition because the only requirement here is that they be meaningful.

    On the other hand, it’s taken me over 10 years on this path to begin to find some consistency with respect to my practice.  Maybe the ratio of seekers to sages* causes some of the problem; so many people lack the personal relationship with an HP that you found (myself included) that we’re forced to become eclectic to seek something that is meaningful.  When we do find that meaning, we can settle down either into an established tradition or into one of our own making that might only ever be for ourselves. 

    * alteration for the win!

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    As someone who comes from a similar background, I think you may be falling back into the conservative Baptist mindset that says the only truth is literal truth and that religious certainty is possible.

    I believe the gods are real, individual beings – because I have experienced them as such.  But my experience is *religious* experience, meaning it is mystical and highly subjective.  If I am honest I must admit my beliefs about my experiences may be wrong and the person who sees the gods as symbols or metaphors may be right.  

    I can’t honestly claim certainty where certainty is impossible to establish.  On the other hand, I have no desire to go through life as an agnostic (I respect those who do, but I need more).  Therefore I act as though my beliefs are literally true.  Even if they are only symbolically true, the practices they inspire and the experiences they facilitate bring about very real results.

    Having people around you who believe what you believe and who practice what you practice helps strengthen your commitment to your beliefs and practices.  Experience, belief and practice form a virtuous circle enabling spiritual growth and depth.

    I think your high priest and I agree on what works, though we may disagree on why it works.

    That it does work is enough for me.

    • http://omo.peacockfairy.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

      As someone who comes from a similar background, I think you may be
      falling back into the conservative Baptist mindset that says the only
      truth is literal truth and that religious certainty is possible.

      Well said.

      As a Boeotian polytheist, I believe in the truth of Hesiod’s Theogony, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I believe it is true in the most literal sense.  This is the sacred whisperings of the Moisai, and They only speak truth, yet at the same time, it is said that They “can make lies sound true”; if both statements can be true, then the obvious reconciliation is allegory.  These are not “lies” in the conventional sense, but the liberties poets take to enhance reality and make it more beautiful.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      So certainty is impossible? Doubt is inevitable? What a dreary existentialism!

      My point is that is you believe air is aligned with the east, your practice will reflect that. If it does not, then maybe you don’t believe that. If you believe the Gods are tools yet use the language of worship in dealing with them, then there’s obviously a disconnect.

      My point is orthopraxy is fine, but if your practice is disconnected from your belief then why do you practice that way? And if you deeply believe in something, shouldn’t it both shape and restrict your practice?

      The nature of the Gods is a totally different argument. I circle with people who believe the Gods are nothing more than energy, yet we both believe that they are bigger, older and far wiser than ourselves (I in a sentient way, they believe in the way water is wiser than us regarding rivers) so we both believe they are to be given honor, respect and offerings.

      The lights in my house work. They work whether I understand electricity or not. Yet if something goes wrong and I don’t understand how they work, I’m literally in the dark. Understanding the difference between a bad bulb, a blown fuse or a downed line will better help me through a dark night and possibly bring the light back faster. Just because something works, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to understand it. Everyone’s faith gets a flat tire now and again. I prefer to know how to change it rather than just being content that it works right now.

      Dismissing me by saying I’m reverting to a Baptist worldview is entirely unhelpful and more than a little insulting. This attitude that anyone who tries to gain a deeper understanding of Paganism than can be found in Starhawk is reverting to Christian mindsets is ridiculous. There is a long history of Pagan religious scholars, and while I don’t count myself among them I also cannot subscribe to a blind faith.

      • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

        No, religious certainty is not possible.  But acting on our beliefs (what we think and feel is true even though we can’t be sure) in spite of our doubts isn’t just orthopraxy.  It’s the essence of faith.

        I totally agree that our practices and our beliefs should be connected.  Where they are not, that is cause for reflection and for change to bring them into alignment.

        I did not intend to “dismiss” you or otherwise insult you.  Clearly, I projected my own experiences onto you and I should not have done that.

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    As someone who comes from a similar background, I think you may be falling back into the conservative Baptist mindset that says the only truth is literal truth and that religious certainty is possible.

    I believe the gods are real, individual beings – because I have experienced them as such.  But my experience is *religious* experience, meaning it is mystical and highly subjective.  If I am honest I must admit my beliefs about my experiences may be wrong and the person who sees the gods as symbols or metaphors may be right.  

    I can’t honestly claim certainty where certainty is impossible to establish.  On the other hand, I have no desire to go through life as an agnostic (I respect those who do, but I need more).  Therefore I act as though my beliefs are literally true.  Even if they are only symbolically true, the practices they inspire and the experiences they facilitate bring about very real results.

    Having people around you who believe what you believe and who practice what you practice helps strengthen your commitment to your beliefs and practices.  Experience, belief and practice form a virtuous circle enabling spiritual growth and depth.

    I think your high priest and I agree on what works, though we may disagree on why it works.

    That it does work is enough for me.

    • http://www.peacockfairy.com Ruadhán J McElroy

      As someone who comes from a similar background, I think you may be
      falling back into the conservative Baptist mindset that says the only
      truth is literal truth and that religious certainty is possible.

      Well said.

      As a Boeotian polytheist, I believe in the truth of Hesiod’s Theogony, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I believe it is true in the most literal sense.  This is the sacred whisperings of the Moisai, and They only speak truth, yet at the same time, it is said that They “can make lies sound true”; if both statements can be true, then the obvious reconciliation is allegory.  These are not “lies” in the conventional sense, but the liberties poets take to enhance reality and make it more beautiful.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      So certainty is impossible? Doubt is inevitable? What a dreary existentialism!

      My point is that is you believe air is aligned with the east, your practice will reflect that. If it does not, then maybe you don’t believe that. If you believe the Gods are tools yet use the language of worship in dealing with them, then there’s obviously a disconnect.

      My point is orthopraxy is fine, but if your practice is disconnected from your belief then why do you practice that way? And if you deeply believe in something, shouldn’t it both shape and restrict your practice?

      The nature of the Gods is a totally different argument. I circle with people who believe the Gods are nothing more than energy, yet we both believe that they are bigger, older and far wiser than ourselves (I in a sentient way, they believe in the way water is wiser than us regarding rivers) so we both believe they are to be given honor, respect and offerings.

      The lights in my house work. They work whether I understand electricity or not. Yet if something goes wrong and I don’t understand how they work, I’m literally in the dark. Understanding the difference between a bad bulb, a blown fuse or a downed line will better help me through a dark night and possibly bring the light back faster. Just because something works, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to understand it. Everyone’s faith gets a flat tire now and again. I prefer to know how to change it rather than just being content that it works right now.

      Dismissing me by saying I’m reverting to a Baptist worldview is entirely unhelpful and more than a little insulting. This attitude that anyone who tries to gain a deeper understanding of Paganism than can be found in Starhawk is reverting to Christian mindsets is ridiculous. There is a long history of Pagan religious scholars, and while I don’t count myself among them I also cannot subscribe to a blind faith.

      • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

        No, religious certainty is not possible.  But acting on our beliefs (what we think and feel is true even though we can’t be sure) in spite of our doubts isn’t just orthopraxy.  It’s the essence of faith.

        I totally agree that our practices and our beliefs should be connected.  Where they are not, that is cause for reflection and for change to bring them into alignment.

        I did not intend to “dismiss” you or otherwise insult you.  Clearly, I projected my own experiences onto you and I should not have done that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

    I am a solitary and an eclectic (non-traditionalist).  My practice is not dictated by cosmology or theology, but by anthropology and psychology.  My beliefs about human nature (my own especially) do dictate the form of my practice.  But just the outlines.  I believe, like Z. Budapest said, that there are parts of myself that cannot be experienced on a rational level, parts that have been ignored, that do not speak English (at least not prose), that do not care about television, but do understand candlelight and color and nature.  And so this belief dictates that my practice must involve symbolism and poetry and story.  Do I need to believe the stories are historically true or believe in gods as separate metaphysical beings, for rituals to work.  Of course not.  I don’t think the proper role of religion is to teach people metaphysics.  For me, the role of religion is to give me the symbols and the stories that speak to the parts of me that are deeper than my rational ego.  I do believe all human beings need this.  But which stories and which symbols we choose is entirely personal, and I would not prescribe the specifics for anyone.  But that is not the same thing as saying that “the way you practice
    doesn’t matter”.  It does matter, very much, to me.  But the way I practice may not matter for the way you practice.  I observe a growing tendency toward orthodoxy and orthopraxy in Neopaganism generally, and I find it disturbing, because this is the reason I left the Christian tradition (Mormonism actually — love the video) of my youth.
    BTW Star — thank you for acknowledging us humanist/naturalist/atheist Pagans out here.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      You just made my point: your practice is dictated by your beliefs and shapes them. :)

      There are quite a few atheist/humanist Pagans out there, and more than a few existentialist Pagans. And some Pagans who wouldn’t adopt the label, but their practice is a frog’s hair away from atheism. It’s a fascinating part of our movement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

    I am a solitary and an eclectic (non-traditionalist).  My practice is not dictated by cosmology or theology, but by anthropology and psychology.  My beliefs about human nature (my own especially) do dictate the form of my practice.  But just the outlines.  I believe, like Z. Budapest said, that there are parts of myself that cannot be experienced on a rational
    level, parts that have been ignored,
    that do not speak English (at least not prose), that do not care about
    television, but do understand candlelight and color and nature.  And so this belief dictates that my practice must involve symbolism and poetry and story.  Do I need to believe the stories are historically true or believe in gods as separate metaphysical beings, for rituals to work.  Of course not.  I don’t think the proper role of religion is to teach people metaphysics.  For me, the role of religion is to give me the symbols and the stories that speak to the parts of me that are deeper than my rational ego.  I do believe all human beings need this.  But which stories and which symbols we choose is entirely personal, and I would not prescribe the specifics for anyone.  But that is not the samer thing as saying that “the way you practice
    doesn’t matter”.  It does matter, very much, to me.  But the way I practice may not matter for the way you practice.  I observe a growing tendency toward orthodoxy and orthopraxy in Neopaganism generally, and I find it disturbing, because this is the reason I left the Christian tradition of my youth. 

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      You just made my point: your practice is dictated by your beliefs and shapes them. :)

      There are quite a few atheist/humanist Pagans out there, and more than a few existentialist Pagans. And some Pagans who wouldn’t adopt the label, but their practice is a frog’s hair away from atheism. It’s a fascinating part of our movement.

  • Soliwo

    I think your post is interesting, but for me there isn’t necessary a problem. It is the story of the chicken and the egg for a part. Yes, some form of belief (or suspension of belief) is required to enter into ritual seriously. However, others require the necessary ‘faith’ only after starting doing ritual. Actually it is my experience that it is often the other way round: only after becoming a bit proficient in ritual practice does one start to be faithful. Others are total believers during ritual, approaching the Gods as real, but are agnostic outside ritual when discussing it theologically/ philosophically. All these positions are completely acceptable to me, but I am not an initiate in a specific tradition. I do feel people should strive to some personal consistency but this can take years plus one always changes and adapts. However, it is my impression everyone who takes paganism seriously has this as a goal/ concern.

    Finally, I never experienced much of gap between belief and practice, at least not as you describe it. I do not know if I am a ‘real believer’ but I know longer care much about this.

    P.S. I am having some trouble with the terms ‘belief’ versus ‘faith’. In Dutch we do not have a separate word for faith. To be a believer in Dutch is to be ‘gelovig’ is a word a never use. ‘Do you belief?’ is the standard question when people ask after my religious life, when they really always mean ‘are you Christian’. I usually reply I am not a believer (gelovig means literally beliefy) but that I am religious.

  • Soliwo

    I think your post is interesting, but for me there isn’t necessary a problem. It is the story of the chicken and the egg for a part. Yes, some form of belief (or suspension of belief) is required to enter into ritual seriously. However, others require the necessary ‘faith’ only after starting doing ritual. Actually it is my experience that it is often the other way round: only after becoming a bit proficient in ritual practice does one start to be faithful. Others are total believers during ritual, approaching the Gods as real, but are agnostic outside ritual when discussing it theologically/ philosophically. All these positions are completely acceptable to me, but I am not an initiate in a specific tradition. I do feel people should strive to some personal consistency but this can take years plus one always changes and adapts. However, it is my impression everyone who takes paganism seriously has this as a goal/ concern.

    Finally, I never experienced much of gap between belief and practice, at least not as you describe it. I do not know if I am a ‘real believer’ but I know longer care much about this.

    P.S. I am having some trouble with the terms ‘belief’ versus ‘faith’. In Dutch we do not have a separate word for faith. To be a believer in Dutch is to be ‘gelovig’ is a word a never use. ‘Do you belief?’ is the standard question when people ask after my religious life, when they really always mean ‘are you Christian’. I usually reply I am not a believer (gelovig means literally beliefy) but that I am religious.

  • Illiezeulette

    I am religious.  I really do believe that there are entities “out there” that can screw with or bless my life.  But… I’m not sure that is so much belief, as it is knowledge, of my experiences.  I know that there are really gods, really lares, penates, and a genius of my family.  I know that the Virgin Mary is a real entity and She cares about what I do with my life, no matter how far from traditional Catholicism I have strayed.

    As an ex-pre-Gardnerian, my beliefs/knowledge informed my decision to undergo initiation into that tradition.  Although I was never initiated, I am sure that there is Gard lore (aka, belief) and Gard praxis that would change a lot of the views that I have currently, had I undergone that initiation.

    My most important principle is to hold on to my beliefs and practices, but not so hard that it impedes conversation with the Gods and a continual growth of my practice and understanding/belief of the universe and my place within it. 

  • Illiezeulette

    I am religious.  I really do believe that there are entities “out there” that can screw with or bless my life.  But… I’m not sure that is so much belief, as it is knowledge, of my experiences.  I know that there are really gods, really lares, penates, and a genius of my family.  I know that the Virgin Mary is a real entity and She cares about what I do with my life, no matter how far from traditional Catholicism I have strayed.

    As an ex-pre-Gardnerian, my beliefs/knowledge informed my decision to undergo initiation into that tradition.  Although I was never initiated, I am sure that there is Gard lore (aka, belief) and Gard praxis that would change a lot of the views that I have currently, had I undergone that initiation.

    My most important principle is to hold on to my beliefs and practices, but not so hard that it impedes conversation with the Gods and a continual growth of my practice and understanding/belief of the universe and my place within it. 

  • Sophia Catherine

    Fascinating stuff. Being a student of (secular) biblical studies, I’ve thought about cosmology and theology a great deal, so coming into Paganism I’ve found it hard to just ‘become’ eclectic. Of necessity while seeking, I’ve had to be eclectic, but that hasn’t lasted long and I’m drawn to established traditions for the moment. When I have experience this may change, and I may feel confident enough to draw on multiple traditions. I think that will (and should) take years, though. I need to have coherent theology, cosmology and practice, especially right now. Training in a tradition will help me decide what I believe about these things. Ultimately, though, I do think we believe based on experience more than choice. The gods will guide me towards a belief system that, if only subjectively, reflects something of who they are.

  • Sophia Catherine

    Fascinating stuff. Being a student of (secular) biblical studies, I’ve thought about cosmology and theology a great deal, so coming into Paganism I’ve found it hard to just ‘become’ eclectic. Of necessity while seeking, I’ve had to be eclectic, but that hasn’t lasted long and I’m drawn to established traditions for the moment. When I have experience this may change, and I may feel confident enough to draw on multiple traditions. I think that will (and should) take years, though. I need to have coherent theology, cosmology and practice, especially right now. Training in a tradition will help me decide what I believe about these things. Ultimately, though, I do think we believe based on experience more than choice. The gods will guide me towards a belief system that, if only subjectively, reflects something of who they are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589344813 Luc Steren

    Technically speaking, I am a hard-polytheistic-pantheistic-atheist.

    That is to say I believe (99.5% – there is small room for doubt) in multiple distinct deities from multiple distinct pantheons yet have no ‘patron’ deity of my own.

    I also believe in the ‘magical’ elements (at least 6, so far, possibly 8. I’m working on the last two) than entwine to form reality.

    These are things I *BELIEVE*.

    My life philosophies stem from my beliefs and also from my personal morals.

    I feel that, too often, religion (Paganism included) struggles to extricate philosophy from theosophy.

    Find my self descriptor of too much of a mouthful? I just call myself a Primal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589344813 Luc Steren

    Technically speaking, I am a hard-polytheistic-pantheistic-atheist.

    That is to say I believe (99.5% – there is small room for doubt) in multiple distinct deities from multiple distinct pantheons yet have no ‘patron’ deity of my own.

    I also believe in the ‘magical’ elements (at least 6, so far, possibly 8. I’m working on the last two) than entwine to form reality.

    These are things I *BELIEVE*.

    My life philosophies stem from my beliefs and also from my personal morals.

    I feel that, too often, religion (Paganism included) struggles to extricate philosophy from theosophy.

    Find my self descriptor of too much of a mouthful? I just call myself a Primal.

  • Windweaver

    I generally just refer to myself as Pagan. I spent many years in a non-traditional Wiccan coven that actually did quite a bit of experimental magic. We would try different methods for casting the circle, or different styles of quarter calls, etc… We found that there were many very effective ways of doing just about everything. As long as the core ideals and beliefs of the Coven remain constant, a bit of experimentation is quite all right. The Gods want us to expand our horizons, and experiences so that we always learn new things.

    An open mind gathers knowledge, a closed mind gathers no wisdom.

  • Windweaver

    I generally just refer to myself as Pagan. I spent many years in a non-traditional Wiccan coven that actually did quite a bit of experimental magic. We would try different methods for casting the circle, or different styles of quarter calls, etc… We found that there were many very effective ways of doing just about everything. As long as the core ideals and beliefs of the Coven remain constant, a bit of experimentation is quite all right. The Gods want us to expand our horizons, and experiences so that we always learn new things.

    An open mind gathers knowledge, a closed mind gathers no wisdom.

  • salemwitchchild
  • Anonymous
  • W. Keith Baldwin

    I am not entirely certain that I would use the word belief, actually.  Perhaps because it tends to be a very loaded term, bringing images of orthodoxy and dogma, perhaps not. 

    However, the word ‘assume’ might seem appropriate.  We perform ritual in a certain way because we ‘assume’ that it works best in accordance with our understanding of the universe.  We ‘assume’ that the gods, spirits, etc, are real beings, able to interact with us in some way.  Circles are cast deosil because of our assumption that that is the best way to build the energy.

    These assumptions become even stronger when shared with others, becoming common assumptions.  Community assumptions.  Assumptions, however, can be challenged more easily than beliefs.  Beliefs tend to be very black-and-white.  Very deeply ingrained.  Wars are fought over beliefs.  Assumptions are more flexible.

    • http://omo.peacockfairy.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

      “Assumption” really doesn’t work here.  To “assume” something is true is to take it for granted (to accept without objection, to accept of use in a careless or indifferent manner) without proof.  A “belief” on the other hand, is the confidence in truth when something is not immediately susseptable to rigorous (scientific, empirical) proof. To the intellectually lazy, the differences may seem minute, but to those discerning, the differences are incredibly telling. A belief is, by nature, subjective to personal experience, and the same experience can garner wildly different beliefs. On the other hand, an assumption must, by nature, rest purely on presupposition, experience not required, nor even preponderance of fact. It is therefore beliefs which are more easily flexible, because any minimum of testing or mere examination of the necessary facts will cast away any presupposition, meaning there is nothing left to assume.

      Furthermore, pagan philosophers of ancient times have worked from and defined “belief”; Plato defines “knowledge” as “justified true belief”, as in a belief that can be tested or one that can be supported with tangible evidence. Not all beliefs are knowledge, but knowledge itself is based in belief.

      If anything, wars are fought not over beliefs, but over the ASSUMPTION that a belief is knowledge.

      Your working definition of “belief” is a uniquely Christian one, and holds no water in any other situation simply because Christian belief is dependent on assumption, and is arguably not belief at all, just organised assumption; therefore, the definition of “assumption” you present is completely wrong.

  • W. Keith Baldwin

    I am not entirely certain that I would use the word belief, actually.  Perhaps because it tends to be a very loaded term, bringing images of orthodoxy and dogma, perhaps not. 

    However, the word ‘assume’ might seem appropriate.  We perform ritual in a certain way because we ‘assume’ that it works best in accordance with our understanding of the universe.  We ‘assume’ that the gods, spirits, etc, are real beings, able to interact with us in some way.  Circles are cast deosil because of our assumption that that is the best way to build the energy.

    These assumptions become even stronger when shared with others, becoming common assumptions.  Community assumptions.  Assumptions, however, can be challenged more easily than beliefs.  Beliefs tend to be very black-and-white.  Very deeply ingrained.  Wars are fought over beliefs.  Assumptions are more flexible.

    • http://www.peacockfairy.com Ruadhán J McElroy

      “Assumption” really doesn’t work here.  To “assume” something is true is to take it for granted (to accept without objection, to accept of use in a careless or indifferent manner) without proof.  A “belief” on the other hand, is the confidence in truth when something is not immediately susseptable to rigorous (scientific, empirical) proof.

      Furthermore, pagan philosophers of ancient times have worked from and defined “belief”; Plato defines “knowledge” as “justified true belief”, as in a belief that can be tested or one that can be supported with evidence.

      If anything, wars are fought not over beliefs, but over the assumption that a belief is knowledge.

      Your working definition of “belief” is a uniquely Christian one, and holds no water in any other situation simply because Christian belief is dependent on assumption; therefore, the definition of “assumption” you present is completely wrong.

  • Sunnydays1941

    I am new to Paganism. For the present I am classifying myself as Wicca. That may change. I am drawn to this because of the freedom to choose what I believe and how to practice. As to whether I am following a tradition or deviating from it. No, I am not following any tradition because it has been only a month and I know no other Pagan IRL.

    At 70 years old, I am rebelling at being told what to believe and how to do it. I do not believe in physical gods. I believe they are symbols. I do believe in the magick or use of the energy of the universe to accomplish those things we desire or need.

  • Sunnydays1941

    I am new to Paganism. For the present I am classifying myself as Wicca. That may change. I am drawn to this because of the freedom to choose what I believe and how to practice. As to whether I am following a tradition or deviating from it. No, I am not following any tradition because it has been only a month and I know no other Pagan IRL.

    At 70 years old, I am rebelling at being told what to believe and how to do it. I do not believe in physical gods. I believe they are symbols. I do believe in the magick or use of the energy of the universe to accomplish those things we desire or need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heidi-Carter/100002903542825 Heidi Carter

    What touched me in your post, was responded to most eloquently by John Beckett. As someone who self identified as pagan for ten years and was also raised Baptist I think he’s onto something. I say that as someone who left paganism for the study of History, not another religion or the lack thereof. i’m one year away from a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies however, with only a minor in History. But that history component is bigger than it seems and in some ways, it’s what was left of my former paganism that has ballooned into the IDS degree and to be honest, I didn’t see that coming until I spoke with my advisor about classes for the Spring semester yesterday and convinced him that I needed to retake a class in Historical Research.

    I will probally blog about this and what it’s brought up for me at http://www.mycoignofvantage.wordpress.com
    Check it in a few days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heidi-Carter/100002903542825 Heidi Carter

    What touched me in your post, was responded to most eloquently by John Beckett. As someone who self identified as pagan for ten years and was also raised Baptist I think he’s onto something. I say that as someone who left paganism for the study of History, not another religion or the lack thereof. i’m one year away from a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies however, with only a minor in History. But that history component is bigger than it seems and in some ways, it’s what was left of my former paganism that has ballooned into the IDS degree and to be honest, I didn’t see that coming until I spoke with my advisor about classes for the Spring semester yesterday and convinced him that I needed to retake a class in Historical Research.

    I will probally blog about this and what it’s brought up for me at http://www.mycoignofvantage.wordpress.com
    Check it in a few days.

  • LezlieKinyon

    Can’t figure out how to just send you a message, Star, but I thought it would be polite to tell you that I mentioned you  in a blog (with a link to yours):  http://wp.me/ppBBD-5N

  • Anonymous

    Can’t figure out how to just send you a message, Star, but I thought it would be polite to tell you that I mentioned you  in a blog (with a link to yours):  http://wp.me/ppBBD-5N

  • http://profiles.google.com/cosettefromjupiter Cosette Paneque

    My practice generally reflects my beliefs. I say generally because I often practice with others – my coven, other covens, the broader community. In these instance, we must all be able to agree to a certain framework in order to practice together even if it doesn’t capture our beliefs 100%. Close enough is often good enough. Not all beliefs are expressed in ritual anyway. If Jane next to me belongs to the school of thought that says all gods are one and I’m a polytheist, that doesn’t necessarily affect our ability to celebrate a Sabbat together.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cosettefromjupiter Cosette Paneque

    My practice generally reflects my beliefs. I say generally because I often practice with others – my coven, other covens, the broader community. In these instance, we must all be able to agree to a certain framework in order to practice together even if it doesn’t capture our beliefs 100%. Close enough is often good enough. Not all beliefs are expressed in ritual anyway. If Jane next to me belongs to the school of thought that says all gods are one and I’m a polytheist, that doesn’t necessarily affect our ability to celebrate a Sabbat together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000971162635 Sarah Buhrman

    “But then there are the eclectics, and this is where I get confused. Do
    eclectics practice in such diverse and idiosyncratic ways because it
    fits their beliefs? Or, and yes I know this is a touchy idea, does a lack of consistency in practice perhaps denote a lack of belief?”

    As an extremely eclectic Pagan, I can answer most assuredly: Maybe.

    The truth is, I cannot answer for all eclectic Pagans. I can only answer for myself, and by extension my family.

    I don’t do ceremony. Unless I want to. I don’t use ritual tools or cast circles. Unless I want to.

    Why? Because I believe that ceremony is a psychological tool to help people “get their spiritual groove on.” If you want to do ceremony, great! If you need ceremony, fine! If you just wrestle your mind into place, think a thought or say a word, I’m right there doing that with you.

    But I think of this as more of the way my brain works (I’m never entirely “in” normal reality, so I don’t really have to “leave” it to do my spiritual work), rather than a skill set.

    And thoughts become reality… this is seen in most spiritual beliefs as well as quantum physics. So, yes, it is because of my beliefs.

    As for Joe Schmoe Eclectic Pagan over there? I dunno.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000971162635 Sarah Buhrman

    “But then there are the eclectics, and this is where I get confused. Do
    eclectics practice in such diverse and idiosyncratic ways because it
    fits their beliefs? Or, and yes I know this is a touchy idea, does a lack of consistency in practice perhaps denote a lack of belief?”

    As an extremely eclectic Pagan, I can answer most assuredly: Maybe.

    The truth is, I cannot answer for all eclectic Pagans. I can only answer for myself, and by extension my family.

    I don’t do ceremony. Unless I want to. I don’t use ritual tools or cast circles. Unless I want to.

    Why? Because I believe that ceremony is a psychological tool to help people “get their spiritual groove on.” If you want to do ceremony, great! If you need ceremony, fine! If you just wrestle your mind into place, think a thought or say a word, I’m right there doing that with you.

    But I think of this as more of the way my brain works (I’m never entirely “in” normal reality, so I don’t really have to “leave” it to do my spiritual work), rather than a skill set.

    And thoughts become reality… this is seen in most spiritual beliefs as well as quantum physics. So, yes, it is because of my beliefs.

    As for Joe Schmoe Eclectic Pagan over there? I dunno.

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    I’ve moved over the last several years to use the language of conviction/convincement.  (These are etymological siblings.)  While some might say that they believe that the gods are independent persons, and others might say that they know that, I say I am convinced  All of us are reflecting our experiences within the limitations of English.  My choice is to avoid the conflicts about belief vs. knowledge.

    As for the issue of certainty, I’ve seen people be certain, and I’m convinced that absolute certainty (about religion, politics, others’ intentions, etc.) is a form of willful ignorance.  If one is certain, one cannot consider other possibilities.  To me, that looks like hubris–which means not only overweening pride, but also abusive violence.  On the other hand, if I am convinced, I remain open to being convinced otherwise.

    I know humility isn’t a popular virtue for many modern pagans, as they associate it with self-devaluing.  But humility comes from the same root as humus; both have to do with the ground.  Healthy humility–as distinct from the unhealthy shaming of hubris–involves being well grounded.  And for those who value the Charge of the Goddess, she charges us to have honor and humility within us.  And part of humility for me is to accept that we limited humans can’t be certain about anything cosmic; instead, we can live our convictions to the fullest.

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    I’ve moved over the last several years to use the language of conviction/convincement.  (These are etymological siblings.)  While some might say that they believe that the gods are independent persons, and others might say that they know that, I say I am convinced  All of us are reflecting our experiences within the limitations of English.  My choice is to avoid the conflicts about belief vs. knowledge.

    As for the issue of certainty, I’ve seen people be certain, and I’m convinced that absolute certainty (about religion, politics, others’ intentions, etc.) is a form of willful ignorance.  If one is certain, one cannot consider other possibilities.  To me, that looks like hubris–which means not only overweening pride, but also abusive violence.  On the other hand, if I am convinced, I remain open to being convinced otherwise.

    I know humility isn’t a popular virtue for many modern pagans, as they associate it with self-devaluing.  But humility comes from the same root as humus; both have to do with the ground.  Healthy humility–as distinct from the unhealthy shaming of hubris–involves being well grounded.  And for those who value the Charge of the Goddess, she charges us to have honor and humility within us.  And part of humility for me is to accept that we limited humans can’t be certain about anything cosmic; instead, we can live our convictions to the fullest.

  • Arvind Kaushik

    Fellow pagans and heathens,

    I have a slightly different perspective on the issue. I think that the pagan practices. have little or nothing to do with beliefs.  That is the beauty of the pagan traditions. The pagan traditions are followed because they are precisely that: traditions: ancestral practices that are passed on from generation to generation. We don’t need a reason or belief to justify our practices. That it is a tradition is a good enough reason.

    Let me be clear: i’m not saying that each individual pagan does not have any individual belief or reason as to why they follow such and such practice. But the fundamental structure of these traditions are such that they are not built upon or predicated upon  belief or reason. Different people have different reasons as to why they follow a tradition. There is no one reason. Furthermore, you don’t even need a belief to follow a tradition. Take my own example, I am a hindu pagan, and I do puja to Ganesha. But I don’t actually believe that there is a deity with an elephant head residing somewhere in the cosmos. But that doesn’t make the practice any less valuable or precious in my eyes. It is very important.

    Anyways, this article just caught my eye, and i just wanted to give my two cents,

    regards,

    Arvind


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