Finally Coming to Terms with My Own Paganism

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Lately I’ve come to the realization that my personal pagan theology doesn’t ‘fit’ with anyone else.  I don’t call myself a wiccan, druid, heathen, Lokian or even a polytheist or pantheist.  Sure, I can fit into all of those labels from time to time, but they don’t always describe my personal religion or my spirituality.

That realization has at times given me comfort, but other times I’m distressed by it.  Not having a label means that I don’t ‘fit in’ with a specific pagan group.  And while being solitary is awesome, there are times you just wish that you had a group around you to celebrate a holiday, full moon, or other special occasion.  And don’t get me wrong, I do have pagan friends, but because my path is so personal, none of them will ever ‘fit’ into my personal paganism.  Even my husband’s paganism doesn’t fit my own.  His has his own personal beliefs and history with specific forms of divinity that very much revolve around his forge.

I don’t think I’m the only one that fits in this category of not-fitting anything.  Many people in my pagan community have to use more than one label in order to describe their specific paths.  Sometimes it’s because their paths span pantheons, sometimes because they span different traditions.  The more paganism grows as a religion, the more labels are going to be necessary to explain the differences.  And the more argument is going to occur about what the definition and intent of that label actually is.

So perhaps not having a true label is the right way to go.  Perhaps in a way that is where paganism needs to be headed.   After all, we are all unique individuals.  We all have different talents and needs.  We think differently from one another.  We  communicate differently.  It makes perfect sense that our paganism would be different.  Even if we practice in the same coven, that doesn’t mean that we do our personal ritual and disciplines the same as our coven sisters and brothers.

 

Our Different Paths: Too different to connect?
Our paganism is also going to be different because of our own past experiences.  There are those who came to paganism late in life, while others were born into this belief system.  Still others had different training prior to joining together in a specific tradition or style.  Those are all things that will influence the individual work that we do.

So if we are all different, then how can you say any particular style or tradition is the ‘right’ one?  How can we say if you don’t do this specific style of heathenry, or that you honor a specific God it means that you aren’t doing it ‘right’?  Really, you can’t.  Because one person’s version of heathenry is not going to be right for someone else.  You may visit the same topics as someone else when trying to figure out your path, but if a particular practice doesn’t feel right to an individual,it may not be because that individual isn’t trying hard enough.  It may just mean that the particular practice doesn’t fit that individual.  Instead, something else will have to be found that ‘fits’ better.

There are always caveats to any rule in paganism.  So even though I say perhaps we need to get to a place where labels aren’t needed, I know there is a caveat here.  We pick and choose our paths, and perhaps some of us will choose to work under a specific teacher.  in those cases, perhaps a specific label WILL fit for the time they are with that teacher, or that coven.  There will be people who are happy in a coven and that is where they choose to stay.  There will also be people that follow a certain heathen teacher and choose to stay on that specific path under the guidance of that teacher.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But I don’t think that particular style of paganism is meant for everyone.

Growing up in primary and secondary school here in the United States, it was pounded into my head that we are a ‘melting’ pot of people from many different areas of the globe.  People came here to start a new life.  They brought their culture with them, and that culture morphed into things we see and take for granted today.  Mardi Gras/Carnival, St. Patrick’s day,  and Paczki day are great examples of this.  While somewhat watered down or modified, these are still ancestral traditions that have made their way into common holidays celebrated by the general population.  It makes perfect sense to me that our ancestors would also look to us to follow other traditions in ways that would celebrate our ancestry as a whole, and not just a specific piece of that ancestry.  Add the matter of oathed or claimed ancestry and an entirely new facet of someone’s personal paganism is born.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that my paganism is going to be exactly that; mine.  Others have given me the labels of Lokian, Heathen, Witch, Shaman, Spirit Worker, Druid, Bard, Spiritualist, and perhaps they all fit, in their own way.  Perhaps more general terms would be better to explain like the Venn Diagram discussed in John Beckett’s essay on the Big tent of paganism.

 

The important bit that’s easily forgotten
But there is one very important part of this conversation that seems to get missed.  The definition of a religion for a pagan means that which who you are as defined by your actions.  Being defined by our actions means we own our beliefs.  We own our beliefs so strongly that we act upon them.  We don’t just debate them or talk about them for a couple hours once a week and go back to being whoever we were before the conversation.

So when someone decides that someone else’s belief is wrong or judges that belief, it isn’t something easily dismissed.  Because it’s not just a judgement about a simple religion.  We have internalized our belief systems enough to act upon them, so that judgement is about someone’s very nature.

Perhaps that is why we seek people out to worship with in the first place, and why we get so heated about others criticizing our beliefs or the labels we give ourselves.  And perhaps it’s why I feel so very radical when I say my own way is good enough.  Perhaps it’s because too many of us have been brought up in another way, where the only religious validation that we may get is from others.  And now we are asking others to validate our beliefs as before, but our paganism is so individual, we cannot get that validation.

John Beckett has recently written posts about pagan unity, and what paganism will look like in the future.  I agree with his optimism.  But I do believe that more of us have to come to terms with our own personal systems of belief being exactly that – OURS.  Let’s recognize that we are all unique and different and come to terms with that.  Let’s also recognize that everyone else’s religion is just as valid as our own before we open our mouth to judge something we don’t understand.  And let’s work on getting these two skills down first before we start attempting to unite as a whole.

 

 

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Author: Karlesha

I am a martial artist, historical fencer, yogi, runner, intuitive / empath, diviner and pagan. My passion is learning about myself, where I fit in the world and where I can do the most good.

13 thoughts on “Finally Coming to Terms with My Own Paganism”

  1. Amy, you know me. I mean, we’ve actually talked…well, typed, in a social setting. I had to re-define my Christianity. I had to use the word “Heretic” because my version of my faith is no more worried about a soul that I’m not sure you believe in than it is worried about mine or my wife’s. Yeah, every person of “faith” is “defined by our actions”. It means that, to others, we must show our faith, even if only to “prove” its validity to them…There’s nothing wrong with finding your own path. My best friend found hers. I find my own Christianity, It’s all good as long as you’re comfortable within it.

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    1. I fully agree with you!

      It’s interesting because I never thought about it from that perspective before. The rules, per se, practices and dogma in paganism is very much wide open. In Christianity I immediately think about the different denominations which have basic rules set in each. I tend to think of those rules as all encompassing; Catholics believe and worship this way, Episcopalians believe and worship this way, Baptists believe and worship this way, and on and on. We don’t really even have that in some ways. I figured if someone didn’t believe a specific thing, well, they go find a flavor of Christianity that did.

      But you didn’t do that. You are making your own way, much like I’m clearing the space for mine. That’s pretty cool! And it gives me hope that others will start to think like you someday and perhaps we can even have interfaith dialogue to help sort this world out finally.

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      1. …”interfaith dialogue to help sort this world out finally.”…*sigh*…maybe…It seems to me that, in my cynical mind, that we are barely able to sort ourselves out. I’m just hoping that our various examples help some other individual sort themselves out. I fear that the World is effed…We’ll never get to interfaith as long as humans are taught to demonize other humans just for being “different”. Hell, do you know how many “Christians” think I’m going to hell for thinking that y’all aren’t?

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      2. I know. I can say it’s really tough, but I know that wouldn’t cover your experience on this. But I do know that there are more people that think like you than you think, and when those people start standing up to be heard perhaps things in the Christian belief will change. Yes, you will always have those with their belief that THEY are right and no one else is, but it’s not everyone. I firmly believe that.

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  2. So, I put you into the polytheist box because a lot of our beliefs and understandings or similar enough. I don’t usually use the Pagan label myself but I’ve covered why that is on my own blog. Yet, I’m still a Pagan. For me, labels are helpful because it don’t you understand where you’re coming out of and how you’re approaching things. Yet, I also understand why you eschew labels.

    Something that comes up every now and again and he’s in circles is that we just don’t agree on theology. I gods names are different, I miss your friend, so on and on. The point of that is that we’re coming out of different mindsets, different worldviews. So, even for those of us who are in the same kind of background, such as using Icelandic and Norse sources primarily, we each will come to the Gods, Ancestors, and, vaettir in our own tribal ways. Kindred in Michigan, if no other way than just by being in a different place, will relate to the Holy Powers differently than one in Texas.

    You have your own path and that’s a good thing. It absolutely is “good enough”, especially if you connect to the Holy Powers and it is a force for good in your life.

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  3. This is what I get for using text-to-speech.

    The “he’s in circles” should be “Heathen circles”, and “I gods names…” should be “The Gods’ Names are different, or we worship different Gods and vaettir entirely”.

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  4. Good points, and yes, most of the time I’m in the polytheist box. But not always. Consider it my Wiccan training, but the concept of “Maiden, Mother, Crone” A.k.a. the Triple Goddess has me seeing the Lady more pantheistically. I see Freya and Frigga as the same deity.

    And I’m not saying labels are not always helpful, they are. But something I’ve said in various iterations is that I think we need to get to how the label helps define a parameter, but not define someone so specifically in that they can never be reclassified as something else. A great example – I use the term Lokian, or Godspouse, and some people immediately define me as a Hiddleston groupie. Not all, of course, but you get the gist. We in a pagan culture and in society pin labels on everything and I think a little distance from that would be a good thing, especially because not everything is what it seems.

    I agree with Beckett when he says we are in a speciation phase of paganism. I see it very well in my own personal practice. High Magic & Wicca combined with Native American and Druid practices done in coordination with local spirits; taking old traditions and holidays and making them fit this day and age – there are no labels for that. Yet, that is my practice. Moreover, trying to explain it to someone means a full conversation. My belief is that more and more pagans are becoming the same way. The practice needs to evolve with our own personal mindsets, and I think sometimes the labels need to as well. But because the label definitions are lagging, perhaps not using them at all, or using them to describe a parameter only is the better way to go.

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  5. Great post. Labels are something I’ve been unpicking for a while too. They’re both helpful and a hindrance. Something that’s really been speaking to me is the importance of individual practice – including our own individuality in our practice. Our own paths are each rich and right in their own ways. You raise some very interesting points, thank you

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    1. Thank you for reading! And I agree – Individual practice is very important. And YES! Our paths are VERY rich! And I think they are getting more rich and more involved and wonderful as time goes on and we find more of the things that speak to us and our needs and the needs of our community.

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      1. Totally agree. It feels like it has become very separatist and clique-y, and I just wish people could be more open and accepting. There’s such a huge potential for a larger community that can work together and support each other, but it feels like so many are just interested in their own neatly-defined groups.

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      2. I think that is one of the issues. Perhaps they don’t realize there are clicks. I might be giving the benefit of the doubt in some cases and it is that clique-y on purpose. But in other cases, it’s automatic to think = , and does not equal . That’s why I wrote about how I’m starting to realize pagans internalize our beliefs so vehemently. And thus our labels become internalized. If more recognized how much we internalize those beliefs and labels, perhaps it would help start conversation to allow for a bigger consensus. That may not lead to a consistent theology, but perhaps to more acceptance between theologies.

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