Practicing Or Preaching? Orthopraxy!

Practicing our beliefs is a far greater path to awareness than speaking about them.

Everything in the universe has a rhythm... practicing my dance moves.
Everything in the universe has a rhythm… practicing my dance moves.

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.

Schools Of Thought And Spiritual Snobbery

May your gods treat you as you've treated others. A nice thought?
May your gods treat you as you’ve treated others. A nice thought?

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

There are many different ways in which people approach their Paganism out there in the wide umbrella of religions which fall under that category (in whichever way you prefer to define it). Among those ways you will encounter some people who are from a school of thought that theirs is an exclusive, traditional path, often times with practices being passed down from generation to generation back into darkest antiquity. For them, the only way to pass into their path is to be initiated by them into it and only then will it’s secrets be revealed.

That may well be the case for their particular brand of Paganism or their particular tradition of Wicca, Druidry or whatever religion they claim as their own. For the most part, I’m not much impressed or interested in these claims. Not because I feel that they are untrue (although I suspect a great number of them may be) but more because, even if they are true, so what? I mean, if they are traditions passed down by their families, that’s all well and good but their family isn’t necessarily my family, their lineage is not necessarily my lineage and their ancestors aren’t necessarily my ancestors even if they did come from the same general part of the world. Also, I don’t have much of a reconstructionist bent so the thought of recreating something practiced by different people in a different place and time doesn’t appeal to me much. I believe we should try to learn as much as we can about our various histories and build a foundation upon those. But, as a modern Pagan living in a modern world that is in a different time and place from the one that my ancestors lived in, I need to adapt to the here and now. There are different energies present, different flora and fauna in the landscape, different spirits of place where I live than where you may live and certainly from where my ancestors more than 5 generations back lived. The past is a nice place to visit, but there is no need to live there. That’s my thought anyway.

Also, I tend to see a bit of what another blogger has referred to as “spiritual snobbery” in the way some people approach their tradition’s roots versus other people’s traditions. “Oh, my tradition is the real deal because I can trace my lineage back to (insert favorite mystical person of some degree of renown).” More often than not, even that person was standing on the shoulders of still earlier giants or has some dubious or unverifiable claims associated with their own supposed lineage. Nah! I don’t need all of that nonsense and hair splitting over unimportant crap. If you tell me you are Pagan and are studying whatever tradition, courses, books, etc. appeal to you and are incorporating what you are learning into making a better life for yourself, seeking to be more in tune with your gods, ancestors, nature spirits, fellow human beings. Looking for wisdom and enlightenment or a better handle on the ways of what many of us perceive to be the elements of magick. If what you are doing is working for you I say go for it! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. It’s your path, not theirs.

The only time you cross paths with others is when you claim the ways of a particular tradition. A tradition is defined by certain elements and to claim it is to adhere to those elements which define that tradition. Wicca has certain defined practices, rules and beliefs. Within Wicca are various traditions which may have widely different approaches to that religion. There are several orders of Druids in the world and they all have their own format and their own approaches to their Druidry. If you choose to claim one of these then you need to find out what these things are which define those traditions and be sure you are adhering to them in your practice. Otherwise, call what you are doing something else. That’s okay to do too. Just be clear with others that that is what you are doing and not try to call it something that it is not. Then, you don’t have to worry about someone coming along and saying “You’re doing it wrong!” I mean, they still might but if it’s yours then you can tell them to go bugger off somewhere. 😉