Shamans and witches have long been said to walk between the worlds – to move back and forth between the world of the living and the world of the Gods and ancestors. As Pagans, we live in the ordinary world, in trance and dreams we visit the Otherworld, and in our circles we stand liminally between the worlds.
We also walk between the worlds in our daily lives.
Part of our work as Pagans is to honor the Gods, ancestors, and spirits of Nature. We pray and meditate, we make offerings and sacrifices, we read Their stories and we tell them again and again. Call it worship, call it piety, call it rendering due honor; this work is about building and maintaining relationships with the spiritual beings who participate in the great work of the Universe. Metaphorically, this work is part of the Otherworld.
Another part of our work as Pagans is to do the everyday things necessary to support ourselves, our families, and our communities. We go to work or school. We care for the very young and very old. We challenge those in power to rule fairly and justly, and we work to overturn and replace systems that are inherently unjust. In our walking between the worlds metaphor, this work is part of this world.
But let us always remember that the ordinary world is not the Otherworld. Service is not devotion and devotion is not service. Prayer is no substitute for action and action is no substitute for prayer.
If we ignore the local spirits, we cut ourselves off from the ground we walk on and the life that shares this space with us. If we ignore our ancestors, we cut ourselves off from our roots and from our most readily available support. If we ignore the Gods, we lose our connection to the source of our inspiration and sustenance.
If we ignore our spiritual work, we lose our power. Look at the mainline Protestants. They’re good people doing good work and many of them are my good friends. But they’ve become almost exclusively concerned with this-world issues and their numbers and their influence have dropped dramatically in my lifetime.
On the other hand, if we ignore the ordinary world, we leave the running of society to people whose values are at great odds with our own. If we leave business to those who view people as commodities, people will continue to be treated like disposable property. If we leave international relations to those who value empire over sovereignty, we will continue to spend billions propping up a declining empire. If we leave laws concerning social conventions to those who yearn for the 1950s, the gay, lesbian, and other gender non-conforming among us will continue to be treated as second class citizens.
My Baptist father used to complain about people who were “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” His Pagan son understands all too well.
As Pagans, we not only walk between the worlds, we are active in both worlds.
Each individual Pagan need not be perfectly balanced between the ordinary world and the Otherworld. Trying to do that would be as big a disaster as any other time you try to force widely varying individuals into one mold of The Way Things Ought To Be. Just look around the Pagan community. There are Pagans whose primary emphasis is social justice. There are others whose primary emphasis is devotion to the Gods. Some focus on teaching, while others focus on doing. Some try to rally large groups, while others work solely on their own.
The wider Pagan community needs them all. We need priests and activists, witches and doctors, shamans and auto mechanics. If we are wise, each of us will focus our own efforts on those activities where our skills and interests intersect with the needs of the worlds: the ordinary world and the Otherworld.
Individually, none of us can fully embody what it means to be Pagan. The good news is that we don’t have to. We only have to do what we’re called to do and support others as they do the same – even if their Paganism looks a lot different from ours.