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.

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?

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