The Importance of Ritual in My Paganism

The Importance of Ritual in My Paganism May 26, 2017

Last week I published a post that outed myself as an armchair Pagan – at least a temporary one, an unwilling one.  I posted with the assumption that it would be one of my quiet boring posts, people would glance at the link and just “pffft” away from it.  Instead it boomed all over Facebook and became my most read post ever.

I read all the comments on the post itself, as well as those on the link on the Patheos Pagan Facebook page and noticed a few interesting common themes going through many of the comments.  The main thing though was people trying to comfort me and reassure me that ritual doesn’t matter and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for not being able to do ritual.  The sentiment is appreciated, very much so, but I also see that in some ways everyone has kind of missed the point.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising the comments and ideas made, simply they made me realise that I didn’t properly explain myself in certain areas.

Ritual is an integral part of my religion, because I love doing my rituals.
By YSEE, Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes. CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m Not a Pagan Pagan

I use the term Pagan almost purely for the community and ease of understanding aspects.  I use the label Pagan because it’s a label that people know and think they understand, thus it saves me from having to explain what my religion is to random strangers.  I also use it because it connects me to the entirety of the Pagan and related communities.  But the fact is, I am not really Pagan.

Not in the usual sense.  I have a religion that has a specific name, it’s Hellenism, Hekatean Hellenism to be more precise.  It falls under the Pagan umbrella or inside the tent, giving me leave to label myself Pagan as well.  But in truth I have no need for the Pagan label, because my religion already has a name.  So there are many things that Pagans, who use the label of Pagan because that is the name of their religion, do and believe that don’t necessarily fit into my religion.

This is fine, no problem, don’t really care – we are all different and that is as it should be.  But this also means that when I speak of an issue in my personal practice of my specific religion, I am not necessarily going to be able to adapt in the ways that many other Pagans are able to.

Ritual is the Backbone

In most forms of Hellenism ritual is the most essential part of the religion – nothing else is as important.  Even belief in the Gods isn’t as important as the act of ritual and worship.  An odd truth, but it is the truth nonetheless.  Belief plays second fiddle to action.  Basically, it doesn’t matter if you doubt the existence of the Gods, so long as you are still giving Them stuff, praising Them and not being open or noisy with your hubris.

Polytheists, of which I am technically one, often speak of orthopraxy over orthodoxy.  This means, right action over right belief – and this holds true for the majority of us.  So long as we are doing things the right way, nothing else really matters.  Now of course, we might argue over what the right way IS, that is inevitable – but in my view this is something people need to figure out for themselves.  Sure, the Gods have Their own rules, but I don’t think it’s impossible for Them to have different rules for different people.  Just like They seem to like some people more than others.

It’s all irrelevant anyway – in my religion, in my Hekatean Hellenism, ritual has come to be the backbone.  It matters, it is important. There is no substitute for ritual, there is no act that is just as good, or close enough.

Suggestions from kind people that I could just pray quietly in my mind in the shower, or go for a walk in nature – these are lovely and totally viable for many people.  But not for me – these are things I can do of course, things I do in fact already do.  But they are still no substitute for what is missing.

This is Not a Judgement

Some of the comments I read did mention that many Pagans do feel some kind of pressure, to measure up and be super active – whether at home or within the greater community.  Some people feel like they are not doing enough in their religion, not because they really feel that way, but because reading about other peoples levels of activity makes them feel lesser.  And there are a lot of posts online that denigrate those who are labelled Armchair Pagans.

But the fact is, we need to remember, at all times, that Paganism is not one religion – and for many of us it’s nothing more than a convenient name to connect us to other people.  There are no rules or commandments, because the rules for one Pagan religion are not going to follow over into another Pagan religion.  Paganism is diverse, the people are diverse, the requirements within Paganism will also be diverse.

The fact that ritual is an integral part of my religious practice is not a judgement call on anyone else. Because your religion is not mine, mine is not yours, and you are not me.  The priorities I hold within my religion are for me and no one else.  There are Pagan religions, traditions or paths that do not require rituals, do not require notable actions.  That’s fine with me, it has nothing to do with me and I don’t really care.  It doesn’t make your religion less, it doesn’t make your devotion to your religion or your gods (if you have any) less than my own.  It’s just different, judgement cannot be made on a religion using the values of another religion.

That, would be ridiculous.  No religion could ever be deemed good enough if we did things that way.

I am Not a Bad Pagan

People telling me to not be so hard on myself, to not feel bad about not being able to do ritual and even some pointing out that it doesn’t make one a bad Pagan.  Again, a nice sentiment but misses the point.

The idea that I am being hard on myself presumes that I am forced to do rituals, or something like that.  But I don’t do rituals because that is what Hellenes should do.  I don’t do rituals because that’s the rules.  I don’t do rituals because the Gods command it or even request it.  I don’t do rituals just because everyone else says I should.

I don’t feel bad about not doing rituals lately because I feel like I am a bad Hellene/Pagan.  I don’t feel bad because I am not doing what I am supposed to do, not following the rules.  I don’t feel bad about it because I am somehow not measuring up.  It’s not about outside influences, pressures or comparisons.  Not at all.

I do rituals because I love to do them.  I feel bad about not doing rituals because I miss them.

This could be likened to my children being away for a few weeks.  I would miss them, because I love them.  I could play with and cuddle a puppy, and it might make me feel a little warm and it would be sweet.  But it wouldn’t make anything better, it wouldn’t fix anything.  Because there is no substitution for my children.  So quiet contemplation, meditation, lighting a candle and looking at it, thoughtful prayer and the like – these are nice things, they will make me feel good.  But they won’t take away the bad feeling, because they can’t replace the rituals I miss and love.

Thank You

The comments I read on Facebook and on my blog were mostly super nice and lovely.  I really was impressed by the way people reacted to my predicament.  Yes, I have just done a post about why some of the well-wishing and suggestions made weren’t really helpful to me in the practical sense – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate the well-wishing and suggestions.  I did, I found it to be really heart-warming actually.

And I am not in any way saying that people shouldn’t have made those suggestions, because actually the comments people made will be very helpful to other Pagans of other traditions. Besides, it created a prompt for a blog post for me, so it was all quite helpful in that regard too.  So thank you, for caring, for sharing helpful suggestions that will work for other people – and for giving me something to write about.

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