Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Paganism as Spiritual Strategy

In this post, I aim to explore why I think I am a Pagan.  This post will not define Paganism or Neo-Paganism more generally.  These terms are very broad, and it is beyond my ability to express what is or is not a Pagan or Neo-Pagan experience.

1.  I am Pagan because I believe that the natural world is ensouled.  I can't define the soul or its capacity or limitations, but I experience it all around me.

2.  I believe that the Abrahamic religions do not have a corner on truth and that their most valuable messages evolved from far more ancient insights which continue to be available to all human beings whose minds and hearts are open.

3.   I believe that all thea/ological discourse about the sacred is just folks talking about something they'll never understand.  I can tell you what I think God/ess is all day and night.  I can be as clever and convincing as hell, but it still doesn't amount to a hill of beans.  The Ineffable will be what it will be regardless of my cheek.  We aren't going to expand or limit Divinity whatever we say, think, or believe.  However, when we limit our conceptualization of the Sacred to that which most closely resembles the powerful, the conventional, and the abusive in our society, then we limit who we are and what we might become, and that's a shame.

4.  So-- I believe that we should be mindful and creative with our theo/alogical language and musings to encourage ourselves to grow toward our potential.  I believe that when we speak of "God/dess" we are reflecting our best hopes for ourselves into the Cosmos.  When we dream of divinity, we can either sanctify all the meanness and injustice humanity has already mastered or we can sing out our human potential for brilliance, warmth, diversity, and love.

5.  Language may only be a construct, but what a construct!  What we build with our language is our choice.  I am Pagan because I am playful with spiritual language.  We need to remember that God is not male.  Nor is God white or European or human for that matter.  God is not even "God".  That word too is merely a construct, a symbol, a signifier. Learning to imagine the Divine in many forms, genders, cultures, species, relationships, and concepts reminds me that the Sacred is not one objective thing or person but is manifest in all life and in all times.  It helps me remember that I can find divinity in unexpected people and unexpected places.  It helps me look for the Sacred everywhere and in everybody.

That's about it, I guess.  My Paganism doesn't define whether I believe in God or Goddess or a singular or plural deity.  It doesn't tell me how I should worship or with whom.  Paganism is not what I believe.  It is what I do.  It is a strategy and a discipline.  It is not an answer to my questions about life and death or the nature of the Divine.  It is a pattern of thought and intent that encourages me to continue asking unanswerable questions.  It encourages me to play and think and wonder and to try as hard as ever I can to understand not the Cosmic Mystery, but maybe just the little bit that resides in me and which is mine to share.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Isn't it odd how words-as-understood-by-us often have so much negative connotative baggage? So much so that we have a hard time discerning the inner meaning of what the others mean?

It's been such an odd night for me. I presented at a poetry reading tonight and people were shocked to learn I am a Christian. But, of course, when they think of that word, they have a vastly different understanding of what it means than what it means to me.

And then I come home and read your title, and I realize a similar semantic confusion takes place. For me as an historian (and a liver of the latter 20th century)"Paganism" has very negative connotatations (though some of your posts have helped me see the view from a different perspective).

And, again in this lucid post, I find myself agreeing with some of your key points.


In the Light,
Daniel Wilcox

Clara said...

"I believe that when we speak of 'God/dess' we are reflecting our best hopes for ourselves into the Cosmos."
The important thing is not to give away our own best qualities to the deity and spend the rest of our lives flogging the fallen part that remains. This is why I am Pagan. It allows me to fully be all that I am. (and you've read Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity, right?).

Hystery said...

I may not be following you, but I don't see our projection onto the deity as giving anything away to the deity but instead as a way of encouraging it in ourselves. I'm assuming that the deity is simply beyond comprehension in its entirety. I'm also assuming that we are in process with that/those aspect(s) of the deity that interact(s) with humans. By playing with metaphors and by becoming more and more inclusive and diverse in our approach to divinity, we begin to see the divine in human forms heretofore neglected by mainstream theology and therefore increase the potential that our sense of inner divinity remains lively. I do not therefore, advocate giving up metaphors like God the Father entirely but including metaphors that speak to embodied female experiences, relationships of lust and longing, grieving, hilarity, loneliness and community, etc. I also think that we should work on moving beyond anthropomorphic metaphors for divinity to recall our relationship to a larger living matrix. I don't believe any metaphor actually gets us close to the Truth, but I believe that language, art, music, and other forms of human self-expression are all we have so that's what we use. I also believe that if we settle in any one metaphor, no matter how noble-sounding, it will eventually stagnate and poison us.

Hystery said...

Dear Daniel,

Perspective is a funny thing. My own background in the history of Paganism in the modern period has led me to see it as one of the more promising (although still newborn and developing) spiritual categories. I see its strong connections to feminism, cross-cultural studies, and environmentalism as a hopeful approach to contemporary issues of inequality and environmental degradation. I also see how much it has absorbed from the best stuff offered by liberal Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Much of my thought for the past several years has been taken up by the interplay of Neo-Pagan and liberal Christian philosophies.

But there is ugliness tucked into every label and I won't deny your negative experience with the same word I find so positive. I'm an idealist, but ours is not an ideal society. Things go wrong and sometimes badly.

It is hard for me to imagine anyone being surprised by your Christianity. I think it shines through very brightly, and I mean that as a statement of admiration. Sadly, I also find that people respond so negatively to Christianity and deny its worth and contributions. I try to remember that they may not have experienced the same Christianity that I have experienced and which remains so integral to my spirituality today.

E. said...

( )

:) Beautifully written! :)

I read an interesting article today that perhaps you too have read...or... :) might be interested in reading? 'God Is Not a Christian' by Desmond Tutu.

Lone Star Ma said...

By that definition, I also am a Pagan. Personally, all the labels Pagan, Christian, whatever - (except Quaker - for no real reasonable reason) just give me the heebie-jeebies in a lot of ways but there's no rational reason for that.

Hystery said...

E. Thank you for your comment and thank you for the link. :-)

Lone Star Ma, what you say actually resonates with me. Although I don't mind using the terms when writing where I have the luxury of explaining my intent, context, and meaning, I don't like to say the words "Pagan" or "Christian" out loud. I'm fine with Quaker. If someone asks me what I am, that's not only what I say, it is the right answer.

intelfam said...

Hmmm, I was faced with our UK Census form which had an optional question on religion. It gave a list of the main choices in the UK, but after campaigns by the pagan community and others, it included an "Other" category in which one could, for example, have "Pagan - X". I was exercised as to whether to answer the question but felt that there were sufficient numbers calling themselves Pagan to require representation (the census is used for drawing up public policy, like education). So I deemed it that I needed to reply and put Quaker - pagan. Still not sure as, like yourselves, I really haven't got a standpoint on the "nature of god" discussion. I just respond "experientially" - which I guess many would say is not disciplined enough ....
In friendship

Hystery said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure that "responding experientially" indicates a lack of discipline. In many ways, experiential relationship with the sacred rather than formal/formulaic theology is at the heart of the Quaker approach. It is certainly at the heart of the Pagan approach (or at least it is for me). In fact, in my graduate program, there was quite a bit of attention paid to experiential methodologies. Even the academic world is catching on to it.

staśa said...

Mmmm. Thanks for this post.

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