Practicing our beliefs is a far greater path to awareness than speaking about them.
I have long subscribed to the school of thought that Pagan religions tend to lean more towards orthopraxy than orthodoxy. In other words, what we do is of greater significance than what we believe. In that light, our tradition, still being a new one, is currently in the process of laying out the framework for what we would like to see from those in our clergy training program as they progress up the degrees. The other elders and I have kicked around ideas together and picked subjects which, to us at least, seemed sensible. But some questions came up at my temple’s recent esbat meeting that makes us wonder if perhaps our focus might be a bit too narrow.
Now, keep in mind that I am but one elder in our tradition so the opinions and vision I might express here are my own but might not necessarily reflect the views of Spirit Of the Sycamore tradition as a whole. My vision for where I would like to see our tradition position itself is eclectic enough to be welcoming to people from a wide swath of Pagan thoughts and philosophies. Admittedly, that’s a very wide and deep cross section of the community to shoot for. At the same time, I would like for our folks to draw upon a foundation of as much factual information as we currently have available on subjects such as the beliefs and practices of the ancient Pagans of our ancestry, knowledge of the natural world, plants, animals, the cycles of the earth, life and the stars. Not too much delving into romantic fantasy about these things but acknowledgment of where we do utilize more modern inventions in ritual and practice that these are indeed things we do just because it feels right to us or we just like it that way without trying to gloss them over as having unverifiable ancient origins.
As for beliefs about the divine? I prefer to leave such things open to individual interpretation. I feel that a person’s relationship with deity is a very personal matter and should be something that they develop as individuals while they travel their spiritual path with us. I have long been a fan of Thomas Jefferson’s quote,
But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
in his Notes on Virginia written in 1782. I bring this philosophy with me in my practice of Pagan spirituality. So, one of the things that came out in our esbat meeting were the concepts of naturalistic, humanistic and atheistic paganism. Admittedly, when considering ideas for clergy training I thought about concepts from duotheism, polytheism and even monotheism. I had considered earth centered Pagan ideas and Heathen based ideas. But I hadn’t considered non-theistic concepts. Nor had any of the other elders. So, we’ve been reading up on these concepts and forming our own opinions on how or if we might recognize these philosophies in our clergy training program. Some of the research comes from blogs I have been subscribed to for quite some time and whose authors have written other articles I have enjoyed but I wasn’t previously aware of their thoughts on the existence of deity.
I have to say, I like the tool John Halstead has constructed in his article The Three (or more?) “Centers” of Paganism at his blog The Allergic Pagan. It makes sense to consider earth based, self based and deity based as common centers of Pagan thought with the Heathen, community or folk based as a possible fourth. It is true that different people tend to base their spirituality around one or more of these centers with possible overlap between all of them. To what degree there is overlap varies from individual to individual and from group to group.
I also enjoyed reading Rhett Aultman’s Care And Feeding Of Your Atheist Pagan in which he explains how a non-theist Pagan’s approach to group ritual and interaction is very much beneficial to them and those within their group even if their views on the divine are different from us theists.
I return now to my original thoughts on practicing being of greater importance than believing and to what Thomas Jefferson said about it not mattering how many gods my neighbor believes in or even no god at all. When I am in ritual and we light that candle for the divine feminine, the goddess candle, it doesn’t matter to me if my brothers and sisters in circle see that as a representation of many goddesses, one Goddess or simply as the feminine divine within themselves. What matters is that we are doing this together and honoring that force in whatever way we conceive of it. The same for the god candle, the same for the elements. People can witness the same event, come away from the same experience and have totally different perceptions of what they saw and experienced. What is important though, is having the experience and having it together.
So yeah, practicing or preaching? I’d have to go with practicing. Explore your path and learn from it. Believe what your inner self chooses to believe about it. Seek your own truth.