What Do I Believe Anyway?

What Do I Believe Anyway? September 8, 2012

“I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.”Neil Gaiman, “American Gods”

From time to time, due to the popularity of my blog, folks have been given to speculating on what my stance or agenda is given a certain political, social, or theological topic. For various reasons, I have tried, or more accurately, learned, to keep the personal stuff as close to the vest as possible. Partially because I write about people I disagree with all the time (though I personally like many of those I disagree with), and partially because I want the focus to be on “us,” rather than on me. I don’t always succeed in this, because I’m human and fallible, and sometimes because my hesitancy to get involved will do more to convince someone of my partisan nature than any action.

Lately there’s been a debate over, well, I guess you could call it a debate between those who believe praxis (practice) is primary in Paganism, above even belief in the deities invoked, and those who believe that practice is meaningless without that belief. I inadvertently became enmeshed in this debate when paganism-on-the-rise.html" class=" decorated-link" target="_blank">I featured a guest post by Brendan Myers on Humanistic Paganism. Many took this post to be an insult towards the intelligence of Pagans who believe in the reality of gods and powers, and a wide-ranging debate took place across the Pagan blogosphere on the topic of the “atheist question.” For a number of reasons, mostly due to me wrestling with burnout and being busy with my other job, I didn’t document or follow this discussion at The Wild Hunt. This led some, perhaps understandably, to think I was a partisan in this matter. That I favored an agnostic/atheistic view of Paganism over a more devotional model.


So let me set the record as straight I can, without engaging in troublesome over-sharing.

This debate has been bringing to my mind  Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods,” because the entire work is a treatise on belief disguised as an action-adventure story featuring various gods and powers. At different points several key characters give their view on what is important regarding belief, from the “let’s give everything a shot” monologue of the character Sam, quoted above, to the following quote from Wednesday, which no doubt warms the cockles of reconstructionist and devotional-minded Pagans everywhere.

“And tell me, as a pagan, who do you worship?’ ‘Worship?’ ‘That’s right. I imagine you must have a pretty wide open field. So to whom do you set up your household altar? To whom do you bow down? To whom do you pray to at dawn and at dusk?’ ‘The female principle. It’s an empowerment thing. You know.’ ‘Indeed. And this female principle of yours. Does she have a name?’ ‘She’s the goddess within us all. She doesn’t need a name.’ ‘Ah,’ said Wednesday, with a wide monkey grin, ‘so do you hold mighty bacchanals in her honour? Do you drink blood wine under the full moon, while scarlet candles burn in silver candle holders? Do you step naked into the seafoam, chanting ecstatically to your nameless goddess while the waves lick at your legs, lapping your thighs like the tongues of a thousand leopards?'”

Wednesday is making the point that her “belief,” being nameless and formless, is meaningless to the old gods who cling to existence in the novel. That she isn’t worshiping anything at all, aside from herself. It’s a quote I’ve seen trotted out many times over the years, usually to critique eclectic practitioners, fence-sitting agnostics, and “fluffy-bunnies” of various stripes. It says, practice is meaningless without a devotional focus, without a god or goddess to benefit from your sacrifice. Of course, Gaiman gives plenty of time to the humanistic side, if you want to call it that. Often pointing out just how dangerous belief can be when not corralled and given limits. In fact, you could argue that the underlying message of “American Gods” is that America is “a poor place for gods.”

In any case, what I believe.

I guess I inhabit the mushy middle of this debate. There are days where I believe in the existence of discrete spiritual entities that many of us call “gods” or “powers” or “mysterious ones,” and there are days where I think Jung had the right idea about archetypes and the collective unconscious. I believe that artists, musicians, poets, and storytellers are far more vital than priests and clergy, and that religion is a by-product of art, not the other way around.


“It is the artist’s responsibility to be the oracle, to abstract where you are – that is our responsibility – we’re not there to look glamorous, you know? We’re there to tune into the frequency of the Earth and the connective tissues of those things that we are responding to – language, colour, costume, literature, poetry, cuisine, perfume – these are the things that make up the desire to throw paint on a canvas, these are the things that create the excitement for building a new language!” – Lisa Gerrard, Dead Can Dance

I believe the construct we call “modern Paganism,” that colossal egregore with which we hope to change the course of the world, is far more reliant on art than on either devotion or practice. I also think I’m incredibly biased on that score since my identity was wrapped up in being an artist for the bulk of my adult life (but I still think I’m correct, despite being aware of this bias). I believe people like Morpheus Ravenna or Thorn Coyle, who express far more intimate dealings with the divine that I could ever  claim, are awesome, powerful, and needful no matter what the ultimate reality of the powers they interact with. I believe that our community, if you want to call it that, is at a turning point in where we go next and that’s why these debates seem so intense right now. I believe that when I chant to two very different powers at the same time, I get travel luck, and I believe that I am thanking them for that service when I leave offerings at the crossroads.

“We are more than we think, and that is not the puffed up shell of an out of balance ego. We are more than we think because we are limited by what our very imaginations will allow. Can we stretch the realm of possibility today? Can we risk becoming more?”T. Thorn Coyle

I believe that my highest service to these powers is being done by writing The Wild Hunt every day. I also believe that this is true even if all the gods are a lie, and we are simply co-creating a new paradigm of reality with nothing but our mortal selves. That the enterprise, and what we Pagans collectively do, is important no matter how we choose to be a part of it. That’s what I believe at this moment. This is who I am right now.

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144 responses to “What Do I Believe Anyway?”

  1. Being faithful to your tradition, your community and your gods is not about having no doubts or pretending there is objective certainty where there is none. It is about acknowledging those doubts and then doing the work anyway: saying the prayers, making the offerings, dancing the dance, picking up the trash, teaching the children…

    …and for one of us, writing “The Wild Hunt” every day.

    I’m closer to the Morpheus Ravenna / Thorn Coyle end of the spectrum than the Brendan Myers end, although I have great respect and admiration for all three. I sometimes wonder if I believe what I believe because of what I do, or if I do what I do because of what I believe. And before I can come up with an answer, it’s time for the next set of prayers.

    May your gods and ancestors bless you, Jason, as you bless us each day.

  2. Curious you should bring this subject up today, a Mr. Sam Webster raised a similar point in his blog just yesterday. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth a look a well.

    Thanks for producing this excellent blog!

  3. For many years I’ve been quoting Rosemary Radford Ruther, from her work Women-Church (1985):

    “A religious community needs enablers in at least five areas: (1) liturgical creators – poets, artists, musicians, choreographers, who can help the community bring forth in creative expression its symbolic life … (5) spiritual counselors who have a wisdom in the inner life and its relation to life in community and can be guides in this journey of psychic-spiritual development.”

    In Ruether’s discussion, she says that one person can enable more than one of the areas, but it is interesting that she separates two aspects that are commonly thought of as the work of clergy or priestcraft: the creation of liturgy and pastoral work. Both are needed, she is saying, but both skills do not have to be found in one person.

    It is also worth noting that she gives creative expression pride of place, the very first item that is critical to religious community.

    I think it was Loretta Orion in her enthographic study of contemporary Paganism, “Never Again the Burning Times” (1995) who stated that the quickest way of acceptance into the Neopagan community (this based on her experiences at festivals) is from creative expression. If you are an artist, your art is welcomed without people (Neopagans) being concerned about the particulars of your belief.

    It is fascinating to think we may have a culture of art and creativity over that of theology and dogma.

  4. Hi Jason, a very nice article. I tend to be a bit like yourself. Thanks for sharing (oh, but my musical muse is more from the prog-rock era; Yes, mostly, but others.

  5. When I was a recent ex-Humanist just learning, after an entheogen-powered epiphanal experience of the Goddess, to be Pagan, I described myself to the people organizing the Covenant of UU Pagans (CUUPS) as “suffering from multiple theology disorder.” They informed me I was not alone.
    I cast runes. I can accept, in between times, that they are a jog to my intuition, pulling out of me that which I do not know that I know. But when I’m actually casting and reading them, I have to believe in them, or they don’t work.
    I believe in a universe as described by science. But when Spring comes I don’t welcome the Earth’s axis passing through a plane perpendicular to the Earth’s orbit and containing the center of the Sun. I welcome Demeter. How the universe works and how you celebrate it are different topics.
    WIth flagrant denominational partisanship I offer a Unitarian Universalist approach (while wishing more UUs followed it). Whatever you tell me about the essential or trivial role belief plays in your Pagan practice, I believe you. When you try to press that onto all Pagans, I put down a flag on the play. If we are to have a future as a movement — dare I say, as a people? — we must give one another spiritual elbow room to each come to their own conclusions about this. Even if we can only worship with the like-minded we must respect other circles of worship of a different mind, as part of our larger family.

  6. “It is fascinating to think we may have a culture of art and creativity over that of theology and dogma.”
    I’d be inclined to say that such a culture would not be best described as a religious/theological one.

  7. What does it mean to be Pagan?
    I would say that, to be Pagan, a person must acknowledge the existence of the gods.

    What are the gods?
    That is a question with many answers.

    I feel that a person calling themself a Pagan (or any of the various tradition specific terms within the Pagan umbrella) should be acknowledging the gods in order to really be covered by the label. How that acknowledgement takes place is less important – doesn’t matter if you believe in a multitude of discrete entities, one faceted super-entity or archetypes of the collective subconscious.

    To just be there ‘for the food’ (to paraphrase an enjoyable movie, ‘Ever After’) is shallow and, ultimately, insulting to those who do believe something deeper than just wanting a good party.

  8. I think that the tendency to want to ask questions about the “literalness” of gods ignores the fact that our ancestors looked for functional and not factual modes of relating to their world. Poetry is the origin of all sacred texts and stories, and meaning and societal cohesion was the primary purpose of religion, not empirical explanation of phenomena. Gods are irrefutably real if one focuses their effect on people and culture. The need to have them be provably and empirically real is a modern obsession that I feel misses the point entirely.

    I have a few essays that explore this topic further on my blog:http://hereticalheathen.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=5

  9. Nice article, I loved American Gods, I hope they don’t butcher the TV series.I believe firmly that ritual without belief, without faith is pretty much cosplay. If someone derives value from it, more power to them, I don’t pretend to understand that. I rely on my Deities and I have faith in them, I pray to them and I beleive they listen and care. I have relationships with some of them that are decades old and I trust them and lean on them and how I deal with my coworkers and my wife and my son is entirely defined by that faith and by those relationships. My wife has an entirely different approach and there is a great deal of love and respect in how our philosphies merge and the blending of them that we offer to our son. Within our community it seems to me like it’s an entirely different ball of wax but your post has calmed me somewhat.

  10. It seems that the blog you’re talking about isn’t too easy to find with a web search. Could you post a link?

  11. “a culture of art and creativity” “a religious/theological one”….why not both? At once! (Multidimensionality) Can we not “serve the gods” through art and creativity? And science, for that matter!

  12. “Religion is a by-product of Art,” is something that a Piscean would say. “Art is a by-product of religion,” is something that a Sagittarian would say. Both signs are ruled by Jupiter (in classical astrology). The Artist (Pisces) and the Theologian (Sagittarius) are both expressions of the same religious impulse (Jupiter). At the end of the day, though, the thing to remember is that we are all spiritual beings, who have incarnated in physical bodies, to learn certain life lessons for our soul’s growth. Those who need to codify their spiritual connection into a series of scriptures and strictures for an honorable life, will likely find Christianity more appealing, the Sagittarian expression of Jupiter. Those who would rather express their spiritual connection through art, music, dance etc., may gravitate more toward Paganism, the Piscean expression of Jupiter.

  13. Why not, indeed. However, we are talking about a (collection of) religious movement(s).

  14. Theological, no. But religious? Perhaps.

    There’s a famous story told by Joseph Campbell (which I shall paraphrase from memory) about a Western religious professional who went to a conference in Japan. They took a field trip to a Shinto temple where they watched the Shinto dancers. The Westerner said to a Shinto priest, “This is very beautiful, but I don’t understand your theology.” The Shinto priest said, “We don’t have a theology. We dance.”

  15. I believe in the one, true God–the one who looks back at me when I look in a mirror. The rest are there to serve the One True God. And if they don’t they get fired and replaced by gods who will.

  16. “I believe that artists, musicians, poets, and storytellers are far more vital than priests and clergy, and that religion is a by-product of art, not the other way around.”

    Early on in my Theodish career, I was given a bit of wisdom by a friend and mentor, which was: “The artistic impulse and the religious impulse are one.”

    The most important parts of my priestcraft are poetry and ritual, and ritual is definitely an aesthetic endeavor, a “Gesamtkunstwerk” that makes use of poetry, song, dance, and other arts. I take a good deal of my inspiration from the kavis who authored the Rg Veda, who were seers, priests, and poets

    All of which is to say that, though I don’t necessarily put religion and art in a dependent relationship, I believe as you do that they are closely linked (and that religion without art, or with poor art, is poor religion).

  17. “…religion is a by-product of art…” I think, rather, that religion is a by-product of death. Most religions have core teachings or beliefs that seek to explain the mystery of death, and to allay the fears and the suffering that most humans experience when they contemplate their demise. An interesting question to ponder is: what, if any, would be the role of religion if we didn’t die (particularly if we continued to live full, healthy lives ad infinitum)?

  18. I see religion as a way of life, not a way of death (which is how I describe Christianity).

  19. “I believe the construct we call “modern Paganism,” that colossal egregore with which we hope to change the course of the world, is far more reliant on art than on either devotion or practice.”

    When it’s done right, religious ritual and/or practice is art. When it’s not done right, I guess it’s still art, just lousy art.

    For that matter, when art is done right it is evocative and transformative in exactly the same way that religious practice should be.

    At least that is what I believe.

  20. I assure you that was deliberate. I believe that religious and philosophical paths grow from the land. More exactly, they grow from the relationship the people have with their environment. As such, what may well work in one location is not guaranteed to work in another.

    The Shinto have both art and theology. Both have their place in culture, but when discussing the finer points of the theology (for example, the place of local guardian spirits in their system of ritual worship) how is talking about dance helpful or, indeed, relevant?

  21. What do I believe? What time is it? Where am I? How old am I? What did I just eat, read, listen to, get pissed off at, cuddle up to, piss off… Divine that, and you’ll have a current snapshot of what I believe. Or not. It’s fluid. And that’s fine. It’s both a wave and a particle. And neither. My catch-and-release system works for me.

  22. On the same subject, I had someone demand me to explain my “Trad” today. And not only explain it, but codify it into a readable form that would not freak out the usual assortment of Mundanes who get all fluffed up at anything slightly ‘occult’. Police, military, social workers, ministers. The ones who declare a Wiccan Wedding in a public park to be a ‘gay wedding’, and therefore illegal- even though the pavillion was rented and everything.

    I still have toothmarks in my tongue from biting it. I don’t have a ‘trad’. Not everyone does. And that’s fine.

    And Jason, you Serve well in your capacity. You do it with grace and intelligence. If this blog is your Practice, your Local Gods should be proud.

  23. I am being completely deliberate, also. Shinto arises very directly from the the land, and is not concerned with theology in the way that Western religions are. Shinto dance is a right-brain expression of its theology. It is not separated into the category of an “art” the way a painting in a church is. Shinto dance “is” Shinto. That is the point of the story. That is the relevance.

  24. Just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed the humanist pagan post, it introduced me to the topic.

  25. Jason,

    Thank you *so much* for doing your work here. I check the Wild Hunt every day and it’s helped me learn so much more about the goings on in the Pagan community. I had a few blogs I somewhat sporadically checked, but through you and the rest of the Patheos crew I get to reach out to so much wider of a group of people. It helps my day, every day, a lot. I can understand the feeling of being burned out, especially when opinions start flying. It adds to it.

    Know that you have a fan in me, as annoying as I come across.

  26. It may be an expression of its theology, but it hardly talks about the spiritual entities that are likewise a part of Shinto.

    It would be no different to ask about the Aesir and Vanir of the Northern Traditions and to be lectured on the runes and the differing styles of Germanic art. Yes, the runes are an intrinsic part of the Northern Traditions, but the question is not about them.

  27. The main thing about paganism is that its an earth centered religion- the seasons, the elements, the sun, the moon. Its based on some pretty concrete undeniable forces (that most religions don’t make much time for) and you can be nontheist/athiest and still be pagan. I don’t know why people denigrate that, its beautiful. Then lots of traditions include the ancestors, and gods, the personifications of the elemental forces which is a great way to connect. In the old days there were always many gods and totems etc that people favored over others based on personal taste and the practice was just doing what you did to survive- planting, harvesting, giving thanks, lighting a hearth etc. Its really important that modern pagans don’t lose touch with the reality of the physical world. Hopefully praxis helps.

  28. It reminds me of a lot of so many tribes of the Americas. The songs and dances were sacred practices used as offerings and spiritual communion.

  29. When I was a recent ex-Humanist just learning, after an
    entheogen-powered epiphanal experience of the Goddess, to be Pagan, I
    described myself to the people organizing the Covenant of UU Pagans
    (CUUPS) as “suffering from multiple theology disorder.” They informed me
    I was not alone.

    I can relate. The archetype is important and certainly speaks to a unifying force in humanity, but recognising that doesn’t necessarily replace a belief in Deities. I once remarked to a friend of mine that, while I knew many people who had photos of James Dean, either as a poster in their blog, apartment, bedroom, or high school locker, I’d known previous few who’d actually seen his films. She suggested it was likely because, in addition to being strikingly attractive, at that point (the early 00s), he’d been tapped into some sort of Neo-Jungian archetype, thus explaining the mass appeal to people who’ve never even seen him act. I’ll admit that she was probably correct in that –but acknowledging that posthumous achievement of his, that doesn’t mean he ceases to exist– nor does that mean that a deeper understanding of his archetype cannot be tapped into by actually, well, watching his films and seeing him in action.

    Can people perform rituals without belief? Sure, I guess so, but I still think they’re missing out on something by operating that way. I mean, what kind of joyless couch-fuck does one have to be to order a hot fudge sundae and say “no whipped cream or cherry”? I’ve seen people do that, by the way, really weird. I mean, OK, if one likes neither whipped cream nor cherry, I guess that’s fair enough –but don’t tell yourself it’s to save precious carbs of calories or fat grams or whatever the television told you that you don’t need this year, cos I can plainly see that you’re still having the ice cream and hot fudge and nuts. Try it with. If you still like it better sans whipped cream and cherry, oh well, no skin off my back, but don’t lie to me and try and tell me that skipping the confectionery garnish makes you a healthier person, cos I’m not stupid enough to fall for it.

    How the universe works and how you celebrate it are different topics.

    [nods] Indeed.

  30. Most religions have core teachings or beliefs that seek to explain the mystery of death,…

    Really? That’s news to me. In Judaism, there is no seeking to explain this; the dead just are. Buddhism’s “great mystery” is the relationship of life and suffering, that not even death can absolve suffering. In Hellenismos, well, a lot of research suggests that the idea of a Hellenic afterlife that rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked only caught on from certain schools of philosophy, but even then, most people are neither good enough for Elysium, nor evil enough for Tartaros –no great mystery, you’re just dead. As best as I know about Wicca, there’s no “seeking to explain he mystery of death”, but a stress on living in harmony with the here and now.

    Gods below, Christianity didn’t invent religion. Christianity’s preoccupation with death, all things considered, is kind of unique. Stop basing your assumptions of all religions on Christianity. Most religions just accept that death is kind of a mystery and are more concerned with the here and now than the hereafter.

  31. I’ve often said over the years that good ritual is good theater and vice versa. You can’t have one without the other.

  32. And Yahweh undeniably created man out of dirt in his image and breathed life into them. And Ea undeniably created man out of the blood of Qingu, who had instigated warfare among the gods. And so on.

    No, the only undeniable part is that you and Charles and me and everyone else were born from a human parent, after about nine months of development, after at least one sperm and at least one egg came together. Everything else is the realm of belief, whether in Gaia, Yahweh, Ea, onesself, or anything else.

  33. But I think a point being made is that a really good party is/can be something deep and meaningful, at least for some people.

  34. Why do we have to compartmentalize between “art” and “devotion”, between “psychology” and “divinity”?????
    The word “religion” contains the latin root “lig”….which pertains to the linking of things. A religion takes all life experiences and weaves it into a whole. It unifies all aspects of life. Art and science, knowing and feeling, as above so below.
    I thought Myers point was just to show that ones “beliefs” are not synonymous with the religion itself. When we define our religion in terms of “what we believe” we are simpy allowing Christians to determine our theological parameters.
    That is not to say that belief is not important to many practitioners. I actually believe very strongly in the reality of my deities, but I don’t think that this is the point of Myers argument. The point is that we pagans have far more to discuss regarding our spirituality. I don’t simply “have faith in” my Gods’ reality, I strive to “experience” their reality, and to “live out” a part of their reality.
    I think the whole question of “belief vs non-belief” is really very tangential to the future of our spiritual movements.

  35. I also really enjoyed the humanist Pagan post.

    As for theology? In my experience, we are all in process, including the Gods, including God Hirself, including this whole cosmos. Besides which, the forces I deal with are often so vast, I simply cannot “know” on an intellectually satisfying level exactly what they are, though I may try to name them. Closer to home? The land spirits, house spirits, wights, and ancestors are simpler to interact with and honor. I do so.

    As I wrote in my non-creed “Pagan”
    Limitlessness distills in form.
    Ever reaching…

    There is a vast array of creation and destruction happening at each moment. We are hubristic to think we can pin anything down.
    Devotion keeps us in active relationship with the cosmos and the beings therein. Ritual orients us in space and time.

    I feel grateful for your devotion to The Wild Hunt, Jason. It is a daily offering to Sacred Community that helps us all.

  36. Just a short note. I am not Wiccan; I am a Witch. Yet, this passage does describe the way of a Witch who does not “believe,” but “knows” through her own experience. Check it out for an example of this way of practicing:
    Go to page 25. (This is an excerpt from the book “The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition” By Dianne Sylvan)

  37. For all the talk coming from some Pagans about how we don’t need no stinking beliefs, I seriously doubt that most of those Pagans would deny the importance of ethics. Our ethics cannot be separated from our religious beliefs.

    Many Pagans base their ethical outlook on the belief that we are all interconnected, indeed on the belief that everything is interconnected.

    Other Pagans have less of a cosmic/universal focus, and they base their ethical outlook on a belief in the importance of one’s connection to one’s own community. I think that is also a valid belief, and the two views don’t necessarily contradict each other.

    Do we believe that our actions matter? Do we believe that there are such things as Virtue and Justice independent of our ideas and “social constructions”? Even if we believe that there is no moral order or Virtue or Justice, other than what we decide those things are, then still there is the question: how does one choose how to act? On no basis? Science and mathematics and “empirical evidence” do not provide an answer to the question: “how should we live?”

  38. When we consider how Christians think or worship we allow them to define us. It is the same to me to try and not behave like a Christian as it is to try to behave like a Christian. If I overlap with them on some points that’s fine, I don’t have an opposition to Christianity or feel like I need to stop using the word belief or stop praying as has been suggested to me more than once by other Pagans(prayer is Christian). If this was meant to open a dialogue about belief vs non belief then to my viewpoint it utterly failed, Telling someone their beliefs do nothing for them, are divisive and make them incapable of thinking clearly isn’t an invitation to discuss it’s an attack. It’s continues the theme from the Humanist post and for me is divisive and ugly and i’m disgusted with it. I don’t tell other Pagans how to think and speak or worship, and I’m not going to have anyone tell me how to. Yes, I really want to be using this kind of belief language and if you prefer to speak some other way you should. P.S. what is with Pagans freely hating on Christianity? We expect them to let us practice in peace, maybe we could extend them the same courtesy.Bigotry and hatred are bigotry and hatred.

  39. “There are days where I believe in the existence of discrete spiritual
    entities that many of us call “gods” or “powers” or “mysterious ones,”
    and there are days where I think Jung had the right idea about archetypes and the collective unconscious.”
    I too have days like this even though I have had a few powerful experiences with the divine.
    My ‘highest service” is teaching parents how to grow healthy babies, growing herbs, and creating clothing and embroidery. I have been exploring the creativity of the written word by keeping journals and a record of my beliefs and how they are evolving. The Wild Hunt is helping me to see not only do I need to be able to communicate what I believe to in person but also on the internet. The internet has been and continues to be a great source for borrowing and inspiration.
    Ritual is I think something that is inside of us all whether you believe in deity or not. I have noticed that when we drive the same way to work, wash, dry and put away dishes in a similar manner every time, or waiting at the bus for your children are all rituals. Please and thank you are rituals that we use to communicate in a polite manner and have been passed down from generation to generation.

  40. Within the Pagan cluster of cultures and consciousness, I am a practitioner. I am not a believer. That is to say, kinds of doing–magical–reveal hints of the cosmos and its many beings and energies to me, not credulity and the doubting of it.

    My attitude towards Deities, Guardians, Powers, Energies, and All is pretty much–The More! The Merrier! It’s a Fool’s Feast & Everything is Drunk on/in the Motley Cosmos! Who has to Believe in a Deity to Quaff the Beer from His/Her Brewhouse?

  41. Yes! Partying can be a spiritual experience, especially when the Ancestors and loving Spirits are invited. And Dancing can be Knowing, though maybe not in a left-brained kind of knowledge.

  42. I think Joseph Campbell managed to miss the point.
    For many, Joseph Campbell is a saint, but he’s not my Saint.
    I think he was always trying to make A= B when B had something just similar to A. He was wanting everything to fit his theory, whether they actually did or not.
    I think many folks (particularly among “religious professionals” and “world religion” majors) like to look at stuff outside of context to place it within their current worldview, being mostly unopen to new experience, and that’s why that Westerner was completely unable to understand their visit.
    I wonder if that Priest felt similar to Sunfell being asked to explain their worldview in a sentence that would be easily digested by “Mundanes”.
    That’s what I think occurred there.

  43. The point of the story is that Shinto priests are unconcerned about the details of their theology, and assumes they even have one in the sense of what was being asked by the questioner. They are concerned with the beauty of what being offered to the Kami. It is our Western perspective that insists on a formal theology and attempts to impose one upon people and practices that don’t concern themselves with “theology” in ways Westerners have come to expect.

    This discussion reminds me of an academic paper I read in grad school that posited that “music” is a Western construct, in the sense of separating performer and audience. His point was that in much of the world and in earlier history, music was a community event with little to no separation between performer and audience. He pointed out the way in which Western culture delights in taking indigenous community musicians and put them on a concert state in front of an audience, which is completely removed from the context in which the music arose.

    What is the theology of a fire circle? “Um, we drum and dance!” Many people may feel they are having a religious experience, but is not something they can express or choose to express or give a dang about expressing in theological language.

  44. Many Dance styles in the Americas are traditional ceremonial ritual – the moves (at least the basic ones) are taught and repeated over generations and given the proper respect, have the build-up and recognition ancient ceremony contains. You can derive and make a piece of junk out of it. Traditional ceremonial dance involves having to train, focus, memorize, and follow a tradition at least enough to have practiced and had a good teacher.
    The Dance is the “words” of a language of movement.
    People immediately attaching this as only “right-brained” activity just don’t have the knowledge this dance is a language and what those “words” mean, and don’t know what they are for. Often the other ceremonial parts, additions and patterns are as important as parts as the dance, incomplete without them. When they all come together, they are all parts of both the dance and dancer and are used to connect to their own spirit and to others beyond.

  45. A hearty “hear, hear” to your first paragraph. It perfectly expresses the attitude that most Jews who aren’t totally secular have toward Judaism as a religion and set of values. In the Jewish civilization, this way of looking at things is not some intellectual adjustment to modernity, it goes back at least a thousand years. An outlook like this makes it possible for people to get through good times and bad without losing perspective or trying to force themselves to believe things that are absurd. It’s road-tested and flexible and I recommend it.

  46. I believe that the 2 modes of Worship are left brain-right brain functions. From childhood I had a mystical, visionary, and very personal relationship with with the Deities. I chose theater and literature as my college major and minor. I specialized in readers theater as a gateway to ritual. I functioned as priestess in my family’s multi-generational pagan tradition. When I was in high school, I developed a passionate interest in the natural and physical sciences. To me, the science reinforced and enhanced my relationship with the divine. Shortly after my 53rd birthday, I suffered a massive stroke to my right brain. I felt that my spiritual lights went dark. The connection was broken. I was terrified and utterly bereft. My prognosis for recovery was considered only marginal. I refused to accept this and decided that taking courses at my local community college might give my brain something to do. I decided to take astronomy courses. They provided a basis for rebuilding a framework for reconstructing a world view so I could function. The Big Bang = moment of creation= orgasm of the Goddess= music of the spheres detectable by radio receivers; Sun= source of all energy; Life on earth impossible without the Moon; Earth a dynamic collection of systems. If I couldn’t connect with the Gods as objects of worship, I could celebrate the beauty and rightness of the universe, sun, moon, and earth. I could at least create rituals to honor the cycles. Eventually, I saw the TED lecture by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who had herself suffered a left brain stroke. For her, the shutting down of that hemisphere led to deep spiritual awakening. Exactly the opposite of my stroke. I decided to try to do activities that would stimulate any vestiges of right brain function…listening to Mozart around the clock, drawing, doll play, wheel chair dancing, and other artistic activities. It took about 8 years, but my right brain recovered, regenerated? healed? and my sense of spiritual connectedness returned. I can comfortably design and perform group rituals which are worship of the Deities or in honor of the physical cycles alone, as need may require. Personally, for my own practice, I do both or combine the 2.

  47. After reading the whole debate into this matter… I’m more confused now than I’ve ever been in regards to Paganism. I’ve always considered the gods a metaphor for nature, and rituals themselves are an artistic and creative expression of oneness of the universe. I have run into many people who believe in literal magic, auras, divination, soul reincarnation, etc. and I’ve never really bought it. For me, when I was a Christian, I believed in a literal sky-God taking care of the human race and watching over each one of us. I never bought into the crap that the earth is only 6000 years old, or that Noah brought 2 animals of every species on a boat to survive a flood. After I decided that the idea of a God itself was unfounded, I got really interested in poetry by Wiliam Butler Yeates, which lead me into Pagan mythos, from reading his biography when he joined the Order of the Golden Dawn. All of this fascinated me, and showed me a really interesting path. I love ritual, and I love expressing my oneness with the universe, but I still see magic, ritual and the deities as a metaphors and not literal.

    Now, my question is, can a person believe in the Gods metaphorically and still be allowed to be a Pagan?

  48. Lukas, we Pagans don’t have a Pope, nor a committee that would decide to “allow” you as Pagan or not. So, if you’re comfortable self-identifying as a Pagan, go for it! I, for one, would be happy to celebrate and/or circle with ya!

  49. Funny, cause I’m a Pisces, and I wouldn’t say ‘religion is a by-product of art’. I didn’t gravitate towards my belief cause I’m a Pisces, I gravitated to it because it’s how I grew up.

  50. They are quite welcome to be unconcerned about the details of their theology, but what would they say if the very basic question ‘what is a Kami?’ was asked? Would they define it as something they danced for or would they actually explain what it was?

  51. Yet you are still acknowledging the spiritual, there. You may be taking their existence for granted, but that is still belief.

  52. Deep and meaningful, perhaps, but not what I’d call religious.

    I’ve been to plenty of really good parties. They would have been less good if they were not about the people but about gods that were irrelevant to that moment.

  53. “Who has to Believe in a Deity to Quaff the Beer from His/Her Brewhouse?”
    You don’t disrespect the barkeep.

  54. I know what I would say, but not what a Shinto would say. I have mostly Western examples of the answer, which may not reflect the religion as it is lived.

  55. “Now, my question is, can a person believe in the Gods metaphorically and still be allowed to be a Pagan?”
    Yes. You still believe in them, after all. ‘How’ you believe is personal to you.

    Personally, I believe in both metaphorical and literal deities. (My head get get pretty confusing, sometimes.)

  56. “Our ethics cannot be separated from our religious beliefs.”

    I think there are a lot of Pagans without a belief in the Gods as literal beings who would sharply disagree with you about that. I don’t think you have to have a firm belief or sense of knowledge of the literal existence of gods to be incredibly concerned with ethics. Hell, if anything, I often see this the other way around with Pagans I’ve been around– incredibly concerned with their relationship with their gods (indeed, obsessed with that relationship to the point of saying what their gods expect them to eat/wear/buy), not terribly concerned with ethics and virtues. I’m the other way around on this, so I find that kind of Pagan frustrating. For me “how should we live” matters infinitely more than debating what the nature of gods is/isn’t.

    “Science and mathematics and “empirical evidence” do not provide an answer to the question: “how should we live?”

    Not true, although I find it annoying how often I see atheists disregarding the body of science that *does* give good information on this, sociology and psychology. There’s a ton of useful information about what harms/promotes social functioning and individual well-being, and I think anyone disregards it at their peril.

  57. That is truly inspiring!! Thanks for sharing that. So much more for people who have their full right brain functions intact….we can use those activities to develop that side of us even more! (And don’t think I discount the other parts of the brain either. I think the more of our brain we use, the better!)

  58. Only if someone takes the glib comment at face value and thinks Shinto doesn’t involve beliefs.

  59. You can buy your own brew rather than show up for the ritual when you’re going to treat it like warm Milwaukee’s Best.
    If you believe it’s all the same to you, stay home!

  60. Science can provide information, but it does not provide a decision making process for ethics. Anyone who actually lived according to a mathematically defined algorithm would, by definition, fail to pass the Turing test.

  61. ” I believe that artists, musicians, poets, and storytellers are far more vital than priests and clergy, and that religion is a by-product of art, not the other way around.”

    It’s quite pointless to pit the one against the other. In fact it is worse than pointless. Especially for a Pagan. Paganism does not blur the distinction between the Poet and the Priest. Paganism denies that any such distinction has ever been valid or ever could be.

  62. There are some groups within the Pagan movement that wouldn’t accept a person with your views, some groups in which the outlook you describe is the prevailing one, and some groups that wouldn’t ask and wouldn’t care. It’s a big tent.

    Having said that, it’s your business what you do, but there are more religious and spiritual choices available to you than the two you have tried so far.

    I would like you to ask yourself a couple of questions. 1. If you weren’t a Pagan, or people made you uncomfortable calling yourself a Pagan, and your views and interests stayed the same, what else would you or could you be? 2. In most non-Evangelical Protestant denominations, very few lay people and almost no ministers read the Bible literally, or disbelieve in geology, or think that God lives in the sky, and quite a few Christians get satisfaction in attending church services without thinking that God watches over each of us all the time. Did you know that?

    If you happened to born in a town or a state that you couldn’t be happy in, you wouldn’t write off your whole country and become expatriate on that account; you would travel or at least talk to people who had lived in other parts of the country to find out what those places were like. Rural Mississippi, suburban Michigan and San Francisco are all in the United States but they are very different living experiences and suit different sorts of people. Christianity is a large, middling old, and somewhat varied religion. You happened to be brought up by fundamentalists who believe that what they practice is the only true Christianity; that doesn’t mean that they are right and it doesn’t mean that they gave you a balanced picture of the entire Christian religion and its possibilities as a basis for a good life.

    I’m not and never have been a Christian; I’m not trying to save your soul.

  63. I am a CR, Celtic Reconstructist , We are polytheistic and pantheistic . As a recon faith we are trying to re establish the faith of our ancestors . The Tuatha de Dannon , the family of Danu is the pantheon we follow , the gods of our ancestors , we also venerate our ancestors as well. The other thing important in my CR faith is the bond between us and our gods , the one between my ancestors and our gods. The ways our ancestors lived , in a modern context are sacral , given to our ancestors and us by our gods.To us our religion comes from our beliefs and the way we live .Through research, and archiology we are reconstructing as best we can the ways , beliefs of our Celtic Geal ancestors.We are not trying to live as our iron age ancestors did, we are bringing thier beliefs into a modern context . Attempting to live as they would had our ancestors been left alone w/there religion and beliefs in tact

  64. “We are not trying to live as our iron age ancestors did”
    Why not? Perhaps, not entirely, but the basic concept of tribal society and small, predominantly rural communities has a lot going for it.

  65. …ve?

    And the word ‘Pagan’ was originally used by those very same (pre-Christian) Romans to describe rural folk. The Latin equivalent of ‘Hillbilly’, really.

    My view is of an ideal, yes, but that doesn’t make it either uneducated or naïve. Merely from a different angle to others. There are more than one school of thought on most subjects, after all. Mine just happens to be of a more ‘Northern’ mentality than the Mediterranean model.

  66. As an artist who considers making art my primary form of spiritual/magical practice, I can relate to this post very much. Thank you, Jason. And thanks for all your work.

  67. Well, for one trying to live as our stone aged ancestors did would be quite impractical .Altho trying to live in a more pagan , earth freindly way we are modern people . I believe even a pagan Celt wouldn’t want to live in the woods w/o modern conveniences , and realisticly that lifestyle woundn’t work that well.For most of us modern CR’s the religion and Celtic mindset and yes in my Faith , tribal way of life is more important , more Clan based , as in Scotland and Ireland .Family and Clan are quite important in our way of thinking , the Sinnsreachd Faith , a CR based Celtic path

  68. And LS just for the record we do try to live in those ways . One of the future goals of my faith is to once more have a living Celtic pagan Tribal community and lands as our distant ancestors once had , Before foriegn invaders brought thier foriegn god to our native hereditary ethnic homelands

  69. Lonespark,
    I’m not telling you to believe what I do or practice what I do, but I’m not your mommy or daddy, and most everybody I know feels if you aren’t there for the purpose of ritual, they’d rather you go away.
    If you’re not there to also worship, practice and participate, you can find your thrill of party and free (unconsecrated) food elsewhere rather than intruding on someone’s unwitting hospitality meant for participating rituals (also known as stealing)
    Or better yet, go sit through Christian services for the free donuts that come afterwards. At least they expect such b.s. – but usually from little kids who were only dragged there by their parents.

  70. Whether they believe or know or have as philosophy is all word games – if someone knows something that other people call beliefs or faith, its called religion.

  71. This is the model , most Cr’s are trying to use , we are just trying to fill in the gaps in our pagan past Through research and archiology but are trying to rely on our past to move forward into the future in a distinctly Celtic Pagan way.

  72. well , to me Ethics are an important part of my religion/lifestyle ..as a Celtic Pagan Warrior , a strong code of Honor/Ethics are an integral part of how i live as is my Celtic mindset and CR based Religion . Most , not all tho CR’s have such a code of ethics , tis part of a true Celt mindset .Is Also part of ADF , to which i also belong

  73. Seminars, open houses, open feasts, etc. – those are designed to be attended who might just be there for the food, visits, party. I think the problem is some folks can’t see the difference between those and ritual spaces, purposed feasts, and consecration rituals. Furthermore, I think there’s actual fury being expressed anybody says “we’re actually doing something here, if you don’t want to help, you can’t just watch, so kindly leave” followed by a feeling there’s mockery from some sidelines that any of us actually value our rituals and time.

  74. When this discussion first began, I was heart-broken that people thought I was just a cosplayer, or a liar, being disingenuous to those I had ritual with. I don’t believe in the gods. But I WANT to.

    When I see people talking about their relationships and experiences with their deity, when they talk about having amazing moments in ritual, I truly envy them. I want to have that, as well. I think it must be such a beautiful and amazing and comforting experience. So I continue to join in ritual, and I put all my energy into it. And I wait. Maybe I’ll never experience it because I don’t have belief first. I’ll have to just accept that because I am not wired to just believe. I’ve tried and my brain, my soul, rejects it. When I do that, I really am a liar.

    When I hear of spiritual experiences, I envy them, but I admit to trying to figure out if it was something they ate, an overzealous friend giving a skewed prophesy or reading, or something else mundane. I’m not trying to take that experience away from them, because I would never utter my thoughts aloud. What I am trying to do is make it real to myself. If I can’t take away any parts that could be explained, then I am left with a possible real experience. And it gives me hope that I may one day experience it, too.

    Many a night, I’m the skeptic on a ghost hunting team. I don’t go to prove them wrong. I go to find the truth. Maybe seeing spirituality and religion in this same fashion is wrong. But it is how I see the world. So if you have some people in your midst who don’t believe, it doesn’t make them liars. It may be they are just trying to get as close to the fire they can’t see so they might at least feel its warmth. Don’t tell them to go home. Don’t call them cosplayers. I am a seeker. I am viewed by the world in the same lens as you. I fight against the pagan prejudice just as you do. I honor the gods just as you do. Don’t hate me and push me out because I can’t see what you do. Maybe, instead, invite me a little closer and describe what you see.

  75. I think you slipped up there, with the ‘Stone-Aged bit.

    The Celts were the predominant people of Iron Age Britain, especially in the pre-Roman period. (You mentioned that they were Iron Aged previously, so I am presuming that it was just that – a slip-up.)

    I wasn’t suggesting a full reversion to a culture where to live to 50 was to be a tribal ancient, but to ‘live closer to the land’ as a community is something I think more people should try for. It is a personal goal of my own (including a much more low impact life, doing away with various ‘modern conveniences’.)

  76. As an individual of Celtic/Saxon/Viking descent, I get where you’re coming from. Although, I would avoid the ‘foreign invaders’ line, as all three tribal cultures were the foreign invaders at one point or another. (I’d still like to see the grip of dominant monotheism destroyed here, it must be said.)

  77. I hate to quote the guy, but Saint Augustine once said: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

    I know those who do not see the magic in a sunrise. All they see is the optical illusion that the sun is moving when, in fact, it is the earth that moves.

    The vast majority of supernatural and religious experiences can be explained away via mundane, scientific process. That doesn’t make them any less real, though. Science is merely the explanation of magic, when you think about it.

  78. I don’t hate you, but there’s spaces I’d rather have just those people who can at least do the Work preparing ritual, during ritual, and afterwards enough that it doesn’t undo the efforts or afterglow. Some of that Work would involve bringing things in you don’t connect with and can’t feel, and your energy probably isn’t shared, either. You’re basically locked out in any real way, the only thing required left from you is to move your feet out to match.
    It is totally possible this doesn’t float your boat, doesn’t charge your heart, doesn’t make sense to you. There is nothing wrong with that. Accept yourself, move on.I hear “I want to believe” as unnecessary stress, and your envy, even more. Just be *yourself.* The other thing you might be doing is trying too hard to get visual feedback, when you get other kinds more readily? It’s a possibility. If you feel nothing, though.. just be straight with yourself “okay, I feel nothing.. ” it’s okay.

  79. And I do agree with that last thought. I glory in the beauty of sunrises, of rainstorms, of all aspects of Nature. I am shocked that most people aren’t rendered speechless at the magnificence of hummingbird flight. I can feel the magic that science explains. But I am, as yet, unable to feel the same awe in regards to the gods. Maybe it is because I cannot see it, yet.

    To tell me to go home and that I am clearly not pagan means that they are willing to just shut me out and not allow me the opportunity to believe. Maybe I never will. Maybe my own brain will stop my heart from believing. But if I were to believe in any gods, it would be the pagan ones. They make sense to me. So I am in a coven. I have been circling with these great ladies for years. I am currently investigating Druidery. I continue to live in the pagan world because that path makes sense to me. I work to live close to the land, I thank the lettuce when I go to pull some of its leaves, I don’t eat the flesh of other mammals because it hurts so much of our environment, and I acknowledge and celebrate every season. These things, combined, are welcomed and encouraged in the pagan world. I see things through a pagan lens. I happily call myself a pagan.

    Just because I cannot believe without seeing, doesn’t mean I’m willing to give up. Perhaps one day I will get a tap on the shoulder and just know that I am ready to believe. I’m hoping I get that tap, or see someone else have a deeply spiritual experience that I can not explain away to myself and finally have the freedom to believe. Because, honestly, having to see to believe can be incredibly shackling. Don’t revile me and kick me away because I haven’t found what you have. Just be willing to share your happiness and contentment with it.

  80. You can’t force belief. I certainly didn’t (like you, I have to see to believe). I’m not going to try and make a believer out of you, it doesn’t work that way.

    All I can really say is that you are not one of those ‘just there for the food’.

  81. My desire to believe has only stressed me since seeing that many pagans think I don’t belong in the same place as them. Normally, I see my desire to experience the gods like believers do, as a spiritual quest, one that will be completed when I am ready. Or, at least, I hope that one day I’ll be ready. But it never stressed me. It motivated me to learn more, to see other pagan’s paths, to delve deeper into the magic around me, to listen to more stories of gods calling on people. Finding out that I may contaminate or break a ritual for some pagans, that some pagans view me as an unwanted liar has, yes, stressed me out. And I worry now for young/new pagans who may also feel what I feel and be looking for safe places to explore and learn and wait for their belief to solidify. I worry they are now withdrawing, afraid to reach out. I am fortunate that my coven is fine with me as me. Even our hard polytheists. They know I am sincere and never mean or show disrespect. And they are ok with that. But for a newbie who sees that belief is the prerequisite to acceptance?

    I am fine with me. I can only wish others were. I will continue on, learning and exploring. I will continue showing respect and honor. I will continue in giving my sincere intent and energy in any ritual I am invited to. And if the gods are listening and watching, then I think it only fair to give them the true me and not pretend in a belief in them. Now that is disrespect. If they know I need more to believe, then maybe they’ll give me more. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they did and I missed it. Maybe my feeling of rightness within the pagan community is that sign. I don’t know. But I’m okay with not knowing. I’ll be patient and wait and hope that more believers are just as patient and okay with me.

  82. So, basically, “pagan” means whatever it’s convenient for you to mean? In your previous post, the implication is “non-Christian”, but now, because you hope to get an edge after being called naïvely idealistic, you go “but wait, ‘pagan’ originally meant ‘rural person’ so inka dinka do, I be correct”.

    You’re still wrong. The industrial revolution, and the rise of the urban still would have happened; maybe even sooner, as the rise of Christianity seemed to coincidentally precede something called The Dark Ages, during which, guess what, basic technologies of polytheistic Greece and Rome, like indoor plumbing and clockworks, and even novel tech that had not been given use, like steampower, had suddenly been lost. If anything, Christianity put the Industrial Revolution on hold for a few centuries. I mean, I guess you’re perfectly allowed to think what you want to, but if you want to present it as fact (like you seem pretty determined to do), you really shouldn’t be surprised when someone who’s actually done some fact checking points out reality for everybody else.

  83. I think if they, like you, need to chase or force their belief, they should save their precious time and accept themselves already as not believing in it. You think people are supposed to accept you and them in their covens and rituals because you’re nice and if they’re nice, too. (I don’t doubt that you are nice – be clear on that.) I wouldn’t want to keep you out because you’re not nice. I’d want you to stay out for the ritual because in all the ways that matter, is has no meaning for you, and you aren’t feeling or participating. And you’re an adult and I think you can find other means if you are searching for social time and entertainment, or since you are nice, I’d think you can wait for the times I have social time and entertainment planned.

  84. As you quoted previously, she also identifies “(2) teachers who know the history of religious thought systems and their
    relation to social systems and can help the community reflect on and
    reconstruct its inherited symbols; …” That suggests a role for theo/alogy, or at least theo/apoetics.

  85. Starhawk wrote: “People often ask me if I believe in the Goddess. I
    reply “Do you believe in rocks?” It is extremely difficult for
    most Westerners to grasp the concept of a manifest deity.
    The phrase “believe in” itself implies that we
    cannot know the Goddess, that She is somehow
    intangible, incomprehensible. But we do not
    believe in rocks we may see them, touch them,
    dig them out of our gardens, or stop small children from
    throwing them at each other. We know them; we connect
    with them. In the Craft, we do not believe in the
    Goddess we connect with Her; through the moon, the
    stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through
    other human beings, through ourselves. She is here.”

    If a person just “believes” in nature/earth/universe and chooses to call that “Goddess”, would that qualify as “acknowledge the existence of the gods” for you to call them Pagan? If so, what if they just chose not to call it “Goddess”? Would that disqualify them from Paganism? If so, why?

  86. The whole discussion about party-going Pagans is a straw man argument. Myers’ post (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/08/guest-post-humanist-paganism-on-the-rise.html) was about humanistic pagans, and it is inaccurate to characterize humanistic pagans as just being there for the food etc. Polytheistic Pagans are, as a rule, no more serious and no more devoted than humanistic/naturalistic Pagans … although the object of their devotion may be somewhat different.

  87. Bonny, I think you are Pagan, but based on what you wrote farther down, I think you might not be a witch. Not all Pagans are witches, and vice versa.

    In the Craft traditions that I practice, belief is not a prerequisite for joining a coven. Respectfulness, honesty, willingness to show up and do a share of the work are, and it sounds like you have been demonstrating those qualities.

    The Craft of witches opens up to different people in different ways. Some people get a clear call from the Goddess, totally out of the blue when they weren’t looking for it, and then spend some time figuring out what to do about the call. Some, like a High Priest I know, were skeptics the first time they were invited to participate in a ritual, expected nothing much, and were totally gobsmacked by the power of the experience. For some people, witchcraft came naturally to them from childhood on, and their challenge was finding anyone else who understood. Other people were drawn to the Craft for reasons they only dimly understood, and started out deaf and blind to the energies and entities that witches deal with; they had to be taught how to pay attention to faint and subtle cues in order gradually to develop their psychic senses.

    Each of these ways of coming into the circle (and probably a few others) is common and normal and none of them is predictive of how the person’s Craft will develop.

    What they have in common is that people are not expected or required to believe anything that they have not directly experienced. What teachers can do is 1) put you in the way of greater likelihood of having the experiences, 2) direct your attention to information you might be ignoring and 3) suggest one or more frameworks that you can use to make sense of your experiences and incorporate lessons into your daily life.

    There are things witches do that you can’t participate in unless you develop some ability to sense the energies that are in play. Ordinary states of consciousness are tuned to a different frequency, so to speak, and don’t pick up messages from the gods unless the gods are speaking really loud. Some of the “secrets” of the Craft, which are secrets no longer, are methods for getting into and out of trance quickly and at will. Different people do well with different methods: guided meditations, music, rhythms, dance, poetry, fasting, physical exhaustion, sensory deprivation, drugs.

    If you are a member of a coven that does magic or energy work
    on a regular basis, and after several years you still aren’t
    experiencing anything different from what you were capable of feeling
    when you first began, that might not be the right coven for you, or the
    Craft might not be your spiritual path. Religious witchcraft is
    quite a specialized pursuit. Many people try it for awhile, figure out that it’s not where they want to be, and move on.

    You might be more in tune with the Druid approach. Outside of your coven, you might meet a teacher with a different
    teaching style, who will have other methods to help you develop your psychic abilities. Or you might not need or want to be more psychic.

  88. Social time and entertainment. That’s what you got out of everything I said? You think I am here for social time and entertainment and that I want acceptance because I’m nice? Fine. But let me leave you with this thought: there is no litmus test for another’s belief.

    The only reason you know I don’t believe is because I said so, honestly. There are people who claim belief, hell, they’ll claim anything at all to be accepted into the inner circle. I’ve seen a coven built entirely on making sure everyone “sees” the emperor’s new clothes. No one wants to be locked out, and will lie to themselves and others to make sure it doesn’t happen. This is, probably, why I have to find my belief and test it for validity to myself. I’ve seen it used as the cheapest of coin to get into a special group.

    I have no trouble working my way to belief, if that is what I am
    supposed to do. I’ll even accept it as a trial before I know truth. I
    certainly am not going to be embarrassed or ashamed by my honesty with
    myself and others.

    Since you never actually asked, I’ll tell you. Ritual makes me feel connected. It makes me feel as if I almost get it. It is one of the times that the barrier of belief becomes a window rather than a locked door. I am happy, I feel good, I feel like someone just might be listening. I feel like I am part of the earth when we ground. I feel like there is an outer power when we chant, louder and louder. I feel pride in my carefully crafted offering. I feel deep honor when I call in the quarters, when I clasp hands with my coven sisters, or when I am the one that gets to pour the ale for the deity. Ritual certainly has meaning to me. Maybe none of that matters to you, but it certainly matters to me.

  89. Thank you. Yes, I see what you mean. There are times when I do feel blind and deaf. I participate in magic just as hard, with as much energy as I can muster, but do not reap anything.

    I have just this past week embarked on the ADF dedicant path and am impressed, excited, and have trepidation at the same time. This path seems to challenge me and I welcome that. Perhaps by pushing harder, I may break through this wall.

    Thank you, Deborah, for your response and kindness.

  90. I deeply disagree with you there; humanistic Paganism is, admitted on the websites linked by Dr. Myers, to be anthropocentric. How can humanistic Pagans be devoted anywhere near as polytheistic Pagans when their focus is on humanity, and not the Gods? This turns logic on its head.

    Humanistic Pagans may be serious in different ways perhaps, but if the object of devotion is humanity or the self, rather than Nature, the Gods, spirits, Ancestors, etc., aka something other than humanity, what are they actually devoted to, religiously speaking?

  91. I still disagree. The ancient Egyptian religion had far more elaborate death rituals, and more elaborate mythology concerning death and an afterlife, but considering what I remember from my (admittedly brief) “Egyptian phase”, a lot of Egyptian beliefs about death seem more similar to Hindu and Buddhist notion of karma (which isnothing like the Eclectic Pagan / Newage notion), basically the Kemetic afterlife is reserved for those who have ended the cycle of death and rebirth, and the life lived might affect that, including one’s treatment of the dead as a survivor. Death rituals in Kemetic religin are justasmuchfor the living as they are for the dead.

    Additionally, there is no Kemetic messiah, due to return and essentially end all life for the so-called “righteous”, and usher the so-called “righteous” into a paradise beyond life. Christianity is essentially a suicide cult, elevating death to a level really unique, when compared to other religions. It really goes beyond karma, or the weighing of the heart, because most sects seem to place so little emphasis on ethics and works that, in more naturalistic religions with an “afterlife” focus, which work toward ending a cycle. In Christianity, the only constant is that eith you accept Jesus, and get rewarded after death, or youdon’t

  92. In baseball they sometimes say ‘try easier’. You’re exactly where you should be, there’s nothing wrong with your path or how you feel about it. Not everyone is going to accept you but that’s true of any spiritual road. You’re approach is honest and sincere, that will serve you. I shouldn’t have used the term cosplayer at all but I certainly wasn’t referring to genuine seekers when I said it. I dont remember who said the seeking is the goal and the search is the answer but try to enjoy the road a little. How and if people achieve belief is varied and putting undue pressure on yourself can’t help.

  93. You start getting angry and pretending you’ve been martyred given the scenario of being offered _social time and entertainment_ but not ritual space. Telling other people how they owe you and protesting how unfair it is to be refused, when they don’t owe you anything? Ugly stuff.

  94. Using a bit of entry-level philosophy (the only thing I do not doubt is that I doubt), we can’t really know anything.

    I believe in gods in much the same way as I believe in rocks. To me they are real, distinct parts of reality. Of course, not being able to prove/show them to anyone that asks makes them less tangible than rocks (perhaps, more like atoms?).

    Paganism is (usually considered) a group of religions that acknowledge the ‘divine’ in nature. If someone isn’t acknowledging the ‘divine’, I’m not entirely sure how they qualify as religious (yes, Buddhism confuses me, as there are both theistic and atheistic strains.)

  95. @facebook-1197543165:disqus that and undue pressure on others.
    @bonnyf:disqus You got a place in a coven, I hope you stay together. Ciao.

  96. Bonny, if you feel like you are part of the earth when you ground, that is one of the kinds of energy sensing that I was talking about, and you are doing it! You are not totally cut off from that realm, it just doesn’t come easily. Did you feel a connection or identity with the earth the first time you did the grounding procedure? Did it happen very gradually, and at first you wondered if something real was happening? Or was it nothing, nothing, nothing, and then one day, something? Thinking back on that might give you insight as to how you learn.

    You might be a person who experiences the life of the universe as a interplay of forces but not of beings with personalities, or you might notice forces first and beings (such as spirits, elementals and deities) later when you have a better idea what to look for.

    Here are a few other things you might try if you haven’t already. When the moon is full or nearly full, go somewhere where you have a good view of it/her and just gaze at the moon for a while. Notice how you feel. Then if you are moved to do so, sing to the moon–either a regular song or some notes with vowels or noises or any kind of singing that comes to you. If there are clouds in the sky, notice how they move around and over and away from the moon and see if those movements seem to be linked to your singing. Do you have a feeling that the moon is listening? Does anything come back to you by way of moonlight?

    Sit by a creek and watch and listen to the water moving, and also look at the insects, the leaves moving in the breeze, all the little details. When your mind and body are calm, think about the entire water cycle that feeds this stream, evaporation, precipitation in the form of rain or snow and where that takes place, the headwaters of the stream, the place where it joins a larger river or body of water. Look at the creek again and sense whether the spot you are at, or the whole creek as far as you can see and hear it, seems to have a mood or a feeling. Does it have any intention? Is it aware of itself as a creek? Can you feel the entire water cycle of which the creek is a manifestation, or the watershed it belongs to, as an entire system? (If your mind works like mine, first think about it, then imagine it, and finally feel it.)
    You are made mostly of water; can you partly merge with it? Or can you imagine it as a separate being with awareness, aware of you while you are becoming aware of it?

    Stare into a fire for awhile, one that is large enough to have dancing flames.Then soft-focus your eyes (focus your eyes through the fire beyond to a farther point) and take note of what you are seeing on the periphery of your vision as well as in the center of the field. Is there anything going on there besides sparks, smoke and glowing gases? Put your hand out toward the fire; send energy into it; draw energy from it. Move your hand around. Does the fire move or respond to you in some way?

    Find a big, mature, healthy tree that doesn’t have ants crawling on it. Put your hands on the trunk and mentally ask the tree if it’s willing for you to do a meditation with it. If the tree seems to be willing, sit down with your back against the trunk, ground and center. Then connect the energy that runs up and down your spine with the energy that flows up and down the tree’s vascular system from leaves to roots. Slow down and calm your mind as much as you can, and open your consciousness to the consciousness of the tree, and what it senses and experiences in this place. Perhaps the tree will tell you something.

    When you are outdoors, observe some wild animal, bird or lizard and if it’s not preoccupied with survival tasks or caring for its young, try tuning into its consciousness or spirit the way you did with the tree and the creek, and see if you can make enough of a connection to get a taste of how the animal feels and experiences life. You may need to exercise your imagination to start with. You can also try this on plants, breezes, rocks etc. but animals will give you more obvious feedback.

  97. “”pagan” means whatever it’s convenient for you to mean?” Well, every time I have tried to get a definition on it, people say that a fixed definition is not good.

    However, going with historical definitions, both of mine are accurate, in context to their times. Pagan was originally used as a pejorative term by urban Romans to describe their ‘backward’ rural kin. Later it was used by Christians to mean anyone not of Judeo-Christian belief (yup, even Muslims were seen as Pagans, by the Christians.) What it means now is very nebulous.

    “You’re still wrong.”
    Perhaps, I voiced only opinion, after all.

    “…the rise of Christianity seemed to coincidentally precede something called The Dark Ages”
    You obviously are not a historian, are you? The Dark Ages (referring to that period of early medieval history where western Europe – notably Britain – shifted from Roman rule to nation states) as a term is pretty much obsolete as it was coined to refer to the lack of written record, which much of history used to be based upon. With the increase of physical archaeology the post-Roman period is more and more understood, thus no longer ‘dark’.

    The reason Christianity’s coming to dominance seems to coincide with that period of history? Well, that’d be down to the decline of the Roman Empire and the migration of (non Christian) tribal groups cause great social upheaval and a period of intense conflict between these tribes. It is hard for such ‘basic’ technologies to advance when the lands are wracked with conflict. You may want to consider that the Germanic tribes developed the foremost ships of their time, not to mention the technique of folding steel to make superior weapons (a major reason for the dominance of ‘Vikings’ in the later stage of the early Medieval period.). That superiority was only defeated when the Damascus technique of steel manufacture was perfected and the Christian armies (people who preferred order, unity and larger urban settlements) put the northern and western tribes (people who were still largely rural dwelling farmers with little cohesive national governance) to fire and sword.

    “if you want to present it as fact”
    Allow me to quote some of the key moments in my previous posts:
    “I do not think…”
    “…I think that…”

    “you really shouldn’t be surprised when someone who’s actually done some fact checking points out reality for everybody else.”
    I’m not surprised. I’m just unsure what facts you checked when I voiced an opinion based on my own interpretation of the history of the country I live in.

  98. Deborah, I like your words to BonnyF. I, too, feel the Druidic energies. Sometimes we “feel the wave,” other times we might “relate to the particle.” Some of us have more affinity to one way or perception/consciousness or the other. To all who are commenting here: My love for you is boundless. To those who speak with love and caring to those they might disagree with: May the Force be with you!

  99. My mentor Marion Weinstein once stated that Magic is not Supernatural….it is “SUPER DUPER NATURAL!” That is, Magic is really part of Nature, part of us all. Science just hasn’t caught up with it, that’s all! The truth is, the more we learn, the more there is to learn. It never ends, and for that, I am truly grateful to All-That-Is.

  100. Being humanistic is not equivalent to anthropocentrism. As I understand humanism (and identify as one myself), it means that one locates the proper justification for human action and values in the human sphere and not in a divine sphere. In other words, one looks to humanity, not God or the gods, to define what is good, true, and beautiful. This does not imply a lack of devotion to an “other” — primarily nature/earth/universe in the case of the humanist. Also, I think you’re conflating anthropocentrism with self-centeredness: one could be devoted to humanity without being self-centered.

  101. Saying we can;t know anything is sophistry. I can see and feel a rock and experience it as a discrete entity. I can’t see or feel (discrete) atoms. While you might say I am really feeling the rock’s atoms, since most of us don’t have access to a particle collider, we have to take the existence of atoms somewhat on “faith”. The existence of atoms is a scientific theory that I learned from science textbooks and it makes sense to me, but has very little impact on how interact with the world. I probably would never have come up with the idea of atoms on my own if I had not been taught it. In short, it is several steps removed from my direct experience. For this reasons atoms are not “real” to me in same the way rocks are. I think the analogy of gods (which I understand as archetypes) to atoms is a good one. Gods/archetypes are theories that make (more or less) sense of my experience, but I cannot say they are real in the way the tangible world around me is real. I think the confusion comes from the fact that our experience of gods/archetypes may be sometimes more intense than our experience of physicality of a rock — thus they seem more “real”. But this is the difference between objective reality and subjective experience.

    Also, you started out by saying that Pagans are those who believe in “gods” (which was defined broadly). Now you’re saying its a belief in the “divine” in nature that matters. These are related, but different categories I think. If we use the latter definition, then humanistic and naturalistic Pagans easily fall within, assuming you give a similarly broad definition to the term “divine”.

  102. My main point still stands: Dr. Myer’s site, and others in regards to Pagan humanism place humanity, and not the Gods, spirits, Ancestors, or even Nature, as its focal point. While I can agree with your statement that

    “I think you’re conflating anthropocentrism with self-centeredness: one could be devoted to humanity without being self-centered.”

    this has yet to be my experience with those who subscribe to such a view.

    If one looks to humanity for one’s ‘good’, ‘truth’, ‘beauty’, then is the only thing one sees as ‘good’, etc. in relation to humanity, or is this more widely applied (i.e. what is good for humanity ought to be good for the planet)?

    To be honest I have yet to see where anthropocentrism, particularly as it exists in Western society is truly a good in regards to practical survivability of our species, our ecosystems, and so on. That is not to say I am shut to, for instance, you making such a point in which I could come around to understanding this position better, but as of right now I freely admit I do not see the appeal of putting humanity at the center of anything any more than absolutely necessary, especially given our deleterious effects on the environment.

    I also am interested in how one deals with the devotion question I asked earlier: what is religious devotion, especially with humanity at the center of this focus rather than, for instance, a God, Goddess, etc.

  103. aye , i did slip up just a bit . But altho we did bring our gods with us to the homelands , we didn’t porpusely try to eliminate the gods that were already there . Christianity does , they go in expressly set to emilinate and replace whatever beliefs were there before them, the whole evangelism bit .

  104. When I say ‘divine’ I was using it as synonymous with ‘gods and other spirits’. Even if it is nameless and ‘unknowable’, I am making the presumption that this acknowledgement of the ‘divine’ is present to some degree in all those who could be described as ‘Pagan’.

  105. BonnyF–I wish you well on your path! May I make a small suggestion…if you feel interested, the Inka spiritual path is an interesting one to investigate and I feel you might find an affinity there. Also, I think it could be blended well with the Druid path, if you wish. A good book is Initiation:
    A Woman’s Spiritual Adventure in the Heart of the Andes by Elizabeth
    B. Jenkins. (re-issued as The RETURN of the INKA)

  106. Hi, John,
    I understand and agree with Starhawk’s statement. I am not a Humanist, however…nor am I an Atheist nor an Agnostic. If you or anybody is interested in a new way of working with this belief/knowledge question, may I suggest reading “Adventures in Consciousness: An
    Introduction to Aspect Psychology” by Jane Roberts.

  107. For a brief statement of a very different point of view:
    No Beliefs Please, We’re Pagan!

    Executive Summary:
    “Anyone who claims to be more rational, more scientific, more skeptical,
    etc., than the great Pagan philosophers of the ancient world simply
    cannot be taken seriously. Anyone who claims that there is some conflict
    between traditional Pagan beliefs and sound reasoning knows nothing
    about either one.”

  108. In short, I don’t think belief is good for Pagans, and we have no need of it.

    It’s statements like this that are the whole reason I believe that pseudo-intellectualism is just as much of a scourge, especially within the pagan and polytheist community, as anti-intellectualism.

    Come back to that statement after you’ve actually read and contemplated the Maxims of Delphi,much less Classic Greco-Roman philosophy. Belief is abundant in traditional Mediterranean pagan religions; it’s not like Abrahamic belief by any stretch of the imagination, but belief is absolutely present, relevant, and good. If you don’t understand that, why do you feel you can make sweeping proclamations about what is and is not “good for” the entire pagan community?

    The truth is that you cannot, and by making statements such as that, as if you can, let me tell you, you’re doing more unnecessary harm to the pagan community than I and my beliefs.

  109. [nods] Indeed, it is pretty danged clear that’s not merely what he opines, it’s what he believes; and then, as if to prove his thesis right, makes a post about “belief” that is just as divisive and Erisian as any Christian misappropriation of “belief”.

  110. Webster was suggesting an experiment in speech. Whether you want to participate or not, that’s up to you. Some of us do use words in our magic and changing from “believe” to other words really DOES change one’s reality. Otherwise, you are free to accuse Webster of saying things he did not say and guarding your right to say the word “believe” with fierce loyalty that pits “my beliefs against your beliefs.” However, that’s not the way I want to live.

  111. “In short, I don’t think belief is good for Pagans, and we have no need of it.” That’s what he said. He wouldn’t need apologists if he explained his view with less sweeping and arrogant statements like this. It’s divisive and ugly and doesn’t put me in a mood to open a dialogue with folks on the other side of the spectrum. In short, I think belief is good for Pagans and our community wouldn’t exist without it.

  112. You make a good point Rhoanna. All this discussion isn’t about belief in easily provable things (i.e “I believe it is raining outside”), but about beliefs that have been, and probably will remain, unprovable in a way that would satisfy everyone (i.e “After I die I’m going to the Summerlands” or “After I die I’m going to be reincarnated” or “After I die I’m joining the Space Brothers on another planet”). Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I don’t think we’re ever going to see irrefutable proof of any beliefs about the gods, the human soul, or magic.

    One other thing that makes me disinclined to put too much stock in unprovable beliefs is that we have access to so many of them. Just take a comparative religion course, browse the web, or go the library and you’ll be exposed to innumerable conflicting religious beliefs. There are definitely some I find more appealing, but I don’t take that to mean they are absolutely true.

  113. Just to be clear on the actual meaning of the English word “belief”: it does not, by itself, imply “belief without evidence”. In fact, that is why one must say “belief without evidence” in order to express that concept.

    There are multiple sources from centuries ago demonstrating that “belief” always has, and often does, mean “belief based upon evidence”. Examples include the King James version of the story of doubting Thomas, Horatio’s exclamation in Act One, Scene One of Hamlet, “Before my God, I might not this believe / Without the sensible and true avouch / Of mine own eyes,” and also the proverb “Seeing is believing” which dates back at least to 1639.

    More modern evidence along the same lines includes the following statement made by Yale University researcher David L. Horowitz quoted in a January of 2000 NASA press release: “We now believe there are between 500 and 1,000 near-Earth asteroids larger than one kilometer (about 0.6 miles) in diameter.”

  114. I’m sure he knows exactly what the word “believe” means. The #1 definition of the word in the Merriman-Webster Dictionary is:
    a : to have a firm religious faith

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