Religious Not Spiritual. Spiritual Not Religious

Religious Not Spiritual. Spiritual Not Religious July 15, 2019

Over the years, the journey which has brought me to who I am as a Witch today has been complicated. For most of my life,  you could have summed me up with the words “religious not spiritual,” although I never would have recognized myself as being so. Listeners of 3 Pagans and a Cat, and/or readers of my posts on The Agora, know to what I’m referring. Now, I can say I’m “spiritual not religious.” Even so, it’s taken me awhile to figure out the difference between those phrases. However, let me share a bit of my past with you so you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Most of my childhood looked like this. Image by Pezibear via Pixabay.com

As a child, nature and magick sparked my interest and attention from an early age. I felt a kinship to the trees which grew in our yard and the little stream which crossed from our pond through a pipe under the road to a small spring on the other side. Spirit beings made their presence known to me, although I didn’t understand who they were or what they wanted. I did figure out pretty quick these beings were not apparent to everyone. Even as a young child, I knew seeing or knowing about these spirit beings was not something to talk about with other people, especially my parents. They would have dismissed my experiences as imagination.

Over time, being raised in a conservative church, the idea of spirit beings who were not God/Jesus/Holy Ghost became spooky. Threatening. Angels were alright. They were “Holy Servants of God.” Anything else became demons because nature spirits, “ghosts” or the “spirits of the dead” did not visit the living or so the Bible teachers said. Spirit beings who did not meet the proper qualifications were either myth or deceptive. And people who spoke to those “other spirits”  were “sinful” or “evil.”

If I can sense spirits, what does that make me? Image by Karen_Nadine via Pixabay.com

You can guess how I felt about myself and the ability to sense “other” spirits.

Looking back, as a Christian I defined reading the Bible, going to church, and doing “good works” as spirituality. Christians will say they have a relationship with their God and such deeds, along with prayer, worship, and a change of carnal desires or attitude, are the evidence. Throughout my life, I did these activities as a way to get closer to God. If He felt distant the fault lay within me. Perhaps prayers or bible study were lacking or I forgot to ask forgiveness for an unremembered “sin”. Maybe I wasn’t going to church or doing enough.

Was I being spiritual or religious? Image by jaefrench via pixabay.com

But was I being spiritual or religious?

In the end, I came to realize religion overshadowed everything I did, defining who I was.  Religion that became dogmatic and intolerant of anyone living outside that sphere of understanding. Spirituality got lost in translation and so did I. But then that was the goal of my former belief system – to save me from a “corrupt” world, transforming from a “sinful” daughter of Eve into a “new creature”, to be “Christ-like.”

Upon leaving Christianity for good and all, I’ve dedicated myself to avoiding the pitfall of becoming religious.

I have called myself a secular Witch, even though there are Goddesses with whom I’ve worked, and consider myself a “soft” animist. Yet, I’ve struggled to understand what it means to be spiritual without the burden of being religious. I’ve had glimpses of it through working with the Earth Mother as a Green Witch. By digging my hands deep into the soil, planting and nurturing herbs and flowers in my garden. Sitting under trees and sensing their aged wisdom, walking in the night under the light of the moon. I’ve learned about spirituality, not by the activities themselves,  so much as through the energetic and spiritual exchange found within nature for which I have no words other than “good” and “right.”

There is a spiritual connection I cannot explain. Image by kellepics via pixabay.com

There is joy in this which surpasses all my understanding when I am working within nature, even where there is a caution or danger to avoid. There is beauty in the energy which I both give and receive. Through this kinship I am defined as a person. My worldview is sharpened and brought into focus. This is Witchcraft, for me. None of this feels like religion to me. This, for me, has always been spiritual. I think it has defined spiritual for me since childhood, it just took accepting myself as a Witch to recognize the connection.

However, through a newly declared devotion to Hekate, I am learning to expand my experience of this natural connection. Is this religion? Perhaps. But the feeling and expectation is different. This Goddess does not require me to change my essence for her. Neither does she ask me to displace or give up the other goddesses with whom I work and honor. My sovereignty remains intact even as I chant her many names or epithets, offer incense at the altar or food at the crossroads at the Dark Moon. Yes, there are rituals, prayers and “hymns”. However, my independence of spirit, desire, will, and thought remain wholly mine, without chastisement, wrath or guilt. There is not always an energetic exchange with Hekate, as I have experienced with the Earth Mother, but when I need her she does respond.

 

Image provided by author.

I believe this was the missing component of religion and spirituality for me all those years as a Christian and may still be for many others who have been leaving that and other major religions to explore what Witchcraft, Wicca, and/or Paganism of some variety has to offer, as the statistics are beginning to show. A sense of primacy, self, and rightness which has either been yielded or lost. In the end, I have come to believe that true religion and spirituality (or lack thereof) are ultimately defined by each one of us.

Maybe the words don’t even matter, so long as what we are doing feels right and who we are as a unique being remains.

About
Gwyn is one of the hosts of 3 Pagans and a Cat, a podcast about the questions and discussions between three pagan family members, each exploring different pagan paths and how their various traditions can intersect. The most practiced pagan on the path, Gwyn is a Modern Hekataen-Green Witch, Devotee of the Covenant of Hekate, and Clairsentient Medium. She loves working with herbs, essential oils and plants. In the past, she has been a musician, teacher, and published author. Now, together with Car and Ode, Gwyn is a teacher/presenter at multiple Pagan events and loves to chat about witchcraft, spiritual things, and life in general. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Samantha Sabovitch

    “This Goddess does not require me to change my essence for her.”

    !!!! So insightful! Indeed, Hekate has been asking me to be more of my essence — to cut away that which isn’t me — to become MYSELF.

  • Gwyn

    Indeed! I found this to be very freeing once I understood.

  • Adala

    I also enjoyed this. Thank you Gwyn.
    I can also understand where you’re coming from, Mike. It truly is a great thing once one decides to break free of religious trappings. Perhaps separating from it has come more easily to you than it did for me. It took me several years to truly consider myself free of the thought forms Christianity imposed on me. In becoming Pagan I stepped into a new spiritual reality and a new community. I found a Pagan church with a substantial congregation. Each person was a very unique individual, but I found most were easily pulled in what ever direction the hierarchy desired, not uncommon to Christianity. I’ve known quite a few High Priestesses and Priests, most of which believed they had all the answers, whose egos rose above what the community actually needed in the form of guided leadership. So many Pagan leaders and writers never take the time to truly understand the pulse of the creative energies and how they work. They are what I would call surface witches/Pagans. Quite wrapped up in myths, stones, spells and what to wear. Dig deep into how the universe works, if you’re interests leads you to do so. There really is a connection to be made. Check out the Kybalion. It’s a good platform that introduces the principles behind the practices. Bright blessings

  • Gwyn

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I love that quote because there is so much wisdom within it. There was a time when I define myself (loosely) as an Agnostic. The need to work through the shadows of my former religion required work before I could move on. I’m glad you’ve found your way out into a place of freedom. Blessed be.

  • Gwyn

    Thank you. I do think it can be easy, when coming from Christianity, to drag those thought forms and “baggage” into a different spirituality unaware. I’ve had to work for years now to “deprogram” myself. I am wary of paths (Pagan or othewise) which smack of a liturgical bent. And while there are those who dwell on the surface of the Craft, Paganism, et al, I believe that most will find their way to the deeper mysteries as they walk the path. Blessed be.

  • Adala

    I do hope that is the case…or…perhaps Pagan leaders will learn to guide their followers rather than attempt to control them for their egos sake. You seem to be one of the good ones. Bright blessings

  • davidt

    My daughter is a pre literate animist. She can’t walk or talk. Animism is her natural way of seeing factually. Her father is a post literate animist. The Bible is post literate animism into writing.

    There is in regards to religious tendencies only animism at a fundamental level. Everything else is in the intellectualizing domain piled on top over multiple generations. Predominately through writing.

    Generally animism is either not understood by those who tend to be that way, nor does it tend to be understood in a larger cultural kind of way either academically, religiously,say in chistianity itself. It’s natural orientation is intellectualizing academic fantasy.

    I have yet to see a clear actual definition,or articulation,or expression, of animism that includes my daughter and one that’s made sense of the Bible writers own Animistic tendencies.

    Animism is not a religion. My degree theology.