I thought a couple of times about posting some of my thoughts about this topic, then decided to give it its own page. I didn’t do this initially because I really didn’t want to make a religious blog – and I still don’t. I guess you might say that, given that this blog is a reflection of what goes on in my mind and its reaction to the worlds around and within it, my religious and spiritual beliefs factor in. These beliefs do not dominate my perspective, but they certainly flavor it: if you were going to sit down and enjoy a nice sandwich at a deli somewhere, wouldn’t you want to know in advance if the sandwich would be using sweet peppers, or something like cayenne pepper in it (which, by the way, I love!)? I figure this is my chance to put a little more detail into the menu of what my mind serves up. For those who prefer to be surprised, you may either choose to read no further, or rely on my ability to surprise even after going into some very basic detail!
Paganism, then, is the religious and spiritual view that most closely describes my perspectives. Wikipedia has a pretty nice explanation for what Paganism is generally understood to be; and more specifically, what Modern Paganism is generally understood to be; and I would prefer not to have to repeat what the editors of those entries have already taken the time to write, so I would encourage anyone curious enough to do so to click the links and read these entries. A lot of people say that ‘Pagan’ is an umbrella term to describe a system of multiple variations of multiple beliefs. As I’ve spent a lot of time walking around in storms, I have a healthy disdain for umbrellas and do not believe in their effectiveness. As someone who has walked in a number of Pagan circles, I’m also not convinced that the word ‘system’ is all that applicable for Pagans. Instead, I prefer to think of Paganism as a state of human belief, rather than a system of beliefs. While many of the objects of my beliefs existed in the past, it is the present state of these objects that I prefer to concern myself with; thus, when forced to use a label, I refer to myself sometimes as a Present-Day Pagan.
So, in the state of belief I’m in, what’s to be found? First, there are gods. Yes, I used the word in its plural sense. Lots of ’em, too. I am a polytheist: I believe in the existence of multiple deities. In most cases, we understand that to mean that I follow a particular pantheon, a family or tribe of gods that is chiefly concerned with one culture or another. I’m not most cases: I believe in all the gods – my gods, your gods, and the guy down the street’s gods – but believing in these gods, and even respecting them, does not mean that I follow them all. In fact, at this point, I’m relating chiefly to three gods, and have a native understanding for a fourth god that I don’t work very much with. These gods are Odin, Njord, the Cailleach, and Heimdall. Like I wrote in the previous paragraph, I understand the historical view and relationships with these deities; but it is with their present selves that I communicate.
Next comes the actual religious part of it. I define religion here as my means of communing with the gods and other spirits around me. In other places, I define religion as relating simply to the fundamental questions of our existence (where do we come from, why are we here, where do we go afterwards); and advocate that religion does not, itself, depend upon a deity concept to exist. My religious experience happens to include deities. I do not believe the gods make religion, though, I believe we make religions. Therefore, I do not claim my religion to be ‘the Way,’ or anything else: it’s what works for me, it’s what helps me to understand what I feel like the gods are interested in sharing; and it’s my way of sharing myself with the gods in return. I’m keen on thinking and reflecting, I’m keen on acting upon those thoughts and reflections of mine that I feel need acting upon, and I’m keen on a mutual sense of respect. I’m not keen on rituals, secret handshakes, or in-your-face parades. My religion describes my communion with the gods I follow, the nuts and bolts of which are between me and the gods. My religion does flavor my outward social perspectives; but I do not allow my beliefs to dominate these perspectives – I prefer to keep my self intact, and my opinions my own. If my gods wished to enforce their opinions in our society, I feel it would be their place to do so – to claim myself as their mouthpiece would be to insult their ability to make themselves known in the world on their own terms. It would also be arrogance on my behalf. If Odin thinks he needs a yearly sacrifice of peaches from all of his followers, he can communicate that to all of us on his own – he doesn’t need me to try to tell everyone else for him, I just need to make sure I’m buying a bucket of peaches every year. I express my devotion to my gods by letting them do their own thing, and in my belief that they respect me enough to allow me to do likewise.
Gods, religion, let’s see … ah, other spirits. I believe in lots of these, too. I’m an animist, and a hardcore one, at that! I even dare to drag science into my beliefs here: I believe what most of us refer to as the Big Bang was the birth of Nature / Existence, which I hold to be the supreme Being, of which we are all (gods included) interconnected parts of the greater whole. We are all echoes of this great event: the atoms that comprise our very bodies are remnants of the same energy released at the Big Bang. But it’s not just our bodies that are remnants of this: our planet, our Sun, the black hole lurking in the hearts of uncountable galaxies, and the cigarette butt I saw at the entrance to a grocery store earlier today … all interconnected parts of the same Being. As such, we all are parts of, and in possession of Nature’s spirit. Everyone, everything. This, then, is what I mean when I refer to myself as an animist. This also qualifies me as a sort of pantheist, as well as polytheist … not always an easy combination to explain, but quite easy for me to live.
Magic is something I believe very strongly in. I once flew in an airplane, across an entire ocean, and believed strongly in the powers that held the plane aloft and allowed for a soft, controlled and deliberate landing. We can call those powers whatever we wish – they are in this case generally referred to as Physics – but I considered the journey (and my safe landing) to be quite magical events. Child birth: we know the science and biology behind it; yet there is no denying the magic of new life, or the magic of watching that new life leap forward and grow into its own. We have a great chunk of rock that we call the Moon, hurtling around us at insane speeds, while we go hurtling around a gigantic, nuclear-powered fireball at even more insane speeds. In all this time, we’ve not once bumped into one another. Magic. The smile on the face of the old lady I helped onto the bus the other day was no less magical. I believe in magic very strongly, strongly enough to seek it in even the most mundane things, and I am never disappointed.
As to how my beliefs get along with the beliefs of others, all I can say is that I try very hard to respect the rights of everyone else to believe what comes naturally to them, and expect the same respect in return. It might surprise some to learn that I have no real problems with the god described by the three major monotheistic religions (just with some of this god’s followers, and, to some extent, the religion these followers have built around this god). I was baptized when I was young, and have even had a vision after having been Pagan for some time that included Jesus and one of the angels (I’m not certain which one, though). At the end of the vision, Jesus smiled. He was black, too, and standing in a public toilet stall, for anyone interested. What I do have a problem with are people who (ab)use religion to exert control over others: just because something is written in a book, no matter how old that book may be, does not mean I have to agree with it or apply it to my life. We live in a world that has lots of books, I’m not inclined to allow myself to be dominated by just one of them. From me, forced obedience yields zero allegiance.
Finally, while discussing my beliefs, I think I would be neglectful if I didn’t also include my adherence to Stoic philosophy. This philosophy has played a major role in helping me to shape my beliefs and perspectives over the years. I do not consider myself to actually be ‘a Stoic,’ but do consider myself to orient much of my path by that philosophy. Much of my work on Relative Being has the Stoic philosophy as its influence – in particular when it comes to the idea of the Universe itself as the supreme being. Within my notions of Present-Day Paganism, this philosophy also makes itself known, chiefly in my application of reason to my experiences and perceptions.
So, that is the tip of the iceberg description of my beliefs. I might add more to this as time goes on; and I’m always more than happy to answer questions or comments anyone might have.