The Spiritual DNA of a Contemporary Pagan

“If we pursue a spiritual path in depth, then it changes who and what we are. There is no turning back. We can only move forward.” — Vivianne Crowley

In a book by Robert Norton and Richard Southern called SoulTypes: Decode Your Spiritual DNA to Create a Life of Authenticity, Joy, and Grace, the authors established four directions or forms the religious impulse could take, or as they refer to it, “our spiritual DNA.” treesThese forms are heart-centered, soul-centered, mind-centered, and strength-centered. This essay will attempt to examine Contemporary Paganism from within this framework.

Heart-Centered

Heart-centered spirituality is expressed through gratitude. They place priority on feelings, emotions, personal renewal and transformation. They people hunger for connection and joyful experiences in religion. They find blessings in everyday living and look for the goodness in others and in the world. They find the spark of sacredness in everything around them and attempt to resacralize the world.

Many Pagans believe in the Law of Attraction — the notion that if we surround ourselves with good, we will attract positive things back to us. It’s the age-old concept of “like attracts like.” Part of that theory is that by showing gratitude, you can cultivate more good things to come your way. They believe in the generosity of the Divine and the Universe, and believe that we only have to ask to receive that which we need, want and desire.

Their gratitude drives them to not only to appreciate what they have been given but to care for those who gave it to them. It is a desire to give back, to demonstrate appreciation. As Cicero first noted: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”

Soul-Centered

Soul-centered spirituality is expressed by those that are intuitive and contemplative. They view life as a sacred journey. Their outlook tends toward the mystical and they are usually attracted to eclectic practices from other religions such as meditation, trance, divination, and chakras. Ritual is extremely important to them as means to connect to the Divine, and magick as a means to assert their will. Their religious tool box is usually full of crystals, altars and other magickal tools.

This spirituality is not necessarily exclusively internal though as ecopsychologists James Hillman writes: “an individual’s harmony with his or her ‘own deep self’ requires not merely a journey to the interior but a harmonizing with the environmental world. The deepest self cannot be confined to ‘in here’ because we can’t be sure it is not also or even entirely ‘out there’!” Carl Jung wrote in his autobiography about his increasing identification with the natural world when he said: “In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”

Mind-Centered

Mind-centered spirituality prefer orderly thought and intellectual exploration of life’s meaning. Knowledge and complex ideas nourish these types.
The Pagan community is full of free thinkers. It’s full of people who question authority, and who try to make right decisions based upon their own moral codes, rather than what may be popular or fashionable. They do not take things at face value, they ask questions, and they don’t accept what they are told just because someone tells you to or because it is written in a book.

Many Reconstructionists practice this spirituality as they emphasize the study of lore and the religious practices of the past to improve their own lives. They reject eclectic practices in favor of cultural specificity. By studying the ancient literature and the regional folklore, they try to envision what the religion might look like today if they had been uninterrupted by Christianity, remaining the same religion but changing in form with the changing times. They take great umbrage when their cultural religious practices and/or Gods are misappropriated and/or misinterpreted by Neo-pagan groups. They emphasize “hard” polytheism (many deities, each as a separate and distinct being), and have a skeptical attitude toward modern unifying theologies, such as Wiccan duotheism (“All gods are one God; all goddesses, one Goddess.”); the triple goddess paradigms (Maiden-Mother-Crone); and (3) Jungian archetypalism. Some Reconstructionist traditions include Asatru, Hellenismos, Romuva, Celtic Reconstructionists and Kemetic Revivalism.

Strength-Centered

Strength-centered spirituality see life as an opportunity to create a better society and seeks to serve others. Formal belief systems are less important to these types and direct action can be one of its expressions. Walking the talk with integrity is important for this type of spirituality to flourish. These are the social and environmental activists such as T. Thorn Coyle and Starhawk. Some of the causes promoted by pagan groups include environmental protection, gender and racial equality, LGBT rights and the preservation of sacred indigenous sites. They see the earth as alive, and as a living being they oppose those that want to destroy her. They also see human beings as embodiments of the sacred, as embodiments of the divine, and they cannot sit back and let people be oppressed, hurt, or made to suffer. As a minority religion, many Pagans are activists in preserving religious freedoms by supporting interfaith work and educating the public about their own religion in order to eliminate fears through such movements as the annual Pagan Pride Day held world-wide every year.

Think about your own path and those of others in the Pagan Community. None of these should be considered greater than another. Often there is overlap. The best part about exploring your spirituality is that it is yours. Don’t worry about what your spouse is doing or what your friend thinks, it is about what makes you happy. Discovering and enhancing your spiritual life is intensely personal, and while I encourage you to share some of your experiences with like-minded folk, make sure you’re surrounding yourself with supportive people. Be yourself and seek out whatever brings you into alignment with your own cosmic energy and inner peace.

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“I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.” – Creating Your Own Religion

1In religion, agency is the capacity of a person to have direct control of your own beliefs and actions. Do you take control of your beliefs, or do you allow others to tell you what to think? Do you value their experiences more than your own? Do you see yourself less sacred that others?

Though some Wiccans practice in a religious tradition that is highly dogmatic and structured, the vast majority of Wiccans have created their own religious practices. Though there may be some common threads in their practices, most choose to call themselves Wiccans because of their choice to walk together and not because of some common mandatory belief or practice. Most Wiccans understand that no one needs to compromise their faith in order to be friends and work together for the common good. The act of being part of a religion should not mean losing our individual identities, but rather finding a way to create an environment that combines our talents and skills to create something that is mutually beneficial.

Wiccans have often found that religion is important to them, but they do not like the standard choices on the menu, including those that may have been created by Wiccans that have come before them. Instead, the majority of Contemporary Wiccans today have decided to create their own religion by doing the following:

1. They create their own scripture. Every religion seems to have a holy book. In Wicca, it is called the Book of Shadows. But unlike book religions, this book is a personal creation. In it, a Wiccan collects quotes, passages, entire books, songs, poems, spells, chants, recipes, herbal remedies, rituals, whatever, that have the weight of ultimate truth for them. These may be hand-written in beautifully crafted leather bound journal, typed and tabbed in a three-hole binder for easy reference, or even placed on a computer or the internet. The choice is theirs. Sometimes groups will create a book together, but most Wiccans still copy what is written into their own book.

2. They create their own rituals. A set of sacred rituals is the structure of a religion. Sometimes Wiccans will create them in concert with other Wiccans, but often they are individual or solitary rituals. A lot of Wiccans find that the most powerful rituals are the ones that they create themselves. Even though the traditional ritual structures have evolved, Wiccans often find that it is acceptable to mix them up and be creative if something different works better for them. Though there are plenty of books being sold that provide examples of rituals, most Wiccans have learned to use them for ideas and incorporate the parts that feel right to them.

3. They re-sacralize the world around them and find a connection with everything. Not only do they find every single human sacred, but they also often find everything else a part of the Divine, seen or unseen. They find common elements taking on uncommon, miraculous powers and functions. They seek out things that move them. Is it music? Then they include incorporate chants, songs, drumming and other musical elements into their religious practices. Is it nature? Then they seek to place their religious practices where nature can be observed. Is it mythology? Then they seek to ancient stories and wisdom of their ancestors.  Is it gemstones, herbs, and other natural materials?  Is it the heavens above?   They pay attention to what moves them and incorporates it and venerates it. They then canonize it into their personal scripture.

4. They acknowledge some version of a higher power. They often view the Divine as encompassing both masculine and feminine aspects. They connect to the Divine in the form that makes sense to them. Feminists have often chosen Wicca because they find it easier to connect to the Divine in her feminine form and call her Goddess. Others see the Divine as exemplifying some important value such as justice, strength, healing, creativity, or family.  Many have relationships with a wide variety of Gods and Goddesses, some with perhaps a handful who are rather special to them, and others to one special patron.

5. They borrow from other religions. There is nothing with borrowing. If there is something they like in the Bible, the Koran, the Kama Sutra, they easily include it into their own personal religion.  They find some paths very compatible to your own beliefs.  They find it hard to imagine any tradition that could not be enriched by the ideas and practices of another. Some might argue that you should get an good understanding of those ideas and practices from the perspective of the religion that you borrowed from, but others would say that the ultimate truth of those ideas and practices are derived from within and how you choose to use them.

6. They find groups of like-minded friends. Call it a support group. Some may create a formal group based on the practices of a specific tradition, but often they are informal groupings.  Even those based on a specific tradition will often pick and choose parts that they like, and then add or modify their own practices.  These groups tend to be small and have a short lifespan as the member’s spiritual paths cross and then separate again. They realize that they do not all have to believe in the same thing to enjoy each other’s company, share their experiences, learn from each other, and create ritual together. Wiccans are generally opposed to proselytizing, or trying to convert someone to accept their views or religion, so these groups are not often advertised or known to the public. Their meetings also do not necessarily need to be formal either. For example, I find a lot of religious value in a monthly “Coffee Coven” that I host where we meet at a local restaurant and share with one another in a safe and fun environment.

They do tend to avoid some of the toxins of organized religion: exclusivity, an emphasis on life after death, a hatred of the body and sexuality, the authoritarianism of the patriarchy, an exaggeration of the sinfulness and self-disgust of human beings, a legalistic morality that is aggressive and judgmental, and the demonization and persecution of independent thinkers and other free spirits.

By creating their own religion, Wiccans do not consider themselves less religious than those that join an organized religion. The truth is, most Wiccans, whether a member of a traditional structure or not, are extremely knowledgeable and well-studied within many differing aspects and traditions of their Craft.   Even “traditional” paths have vast difference among them, so what exactly is it that makes them more correct than these new religious practices? Is it Ego?  Do they believe that they are uniquely special and their interpretation of the Divine is the only acceptable one? Is it insecurity?  Do they justify our their beliefs by condemning others?

There is nothing wrong with being part of a pre-existing, “organized religion”, but Wiccans enjoy having the option of creating their own religion and connecting with the Divine and the world around them in much more meaningful ways than what could have been attained otherwise.

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Religious Cosmology – Making Sense of the Universe

“He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Pythagorean's Hearth of the Universe

The diagram is not to scale, and the planets are aligned for convenience in illustration; generally they were distributed around the spheres.

In 1994, the Czech poet-president Vaclav Havel stated during a speech about the state of the world that “We may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us….”

“The Universe” is a word that we invented to describe everything we can imagine. Cosmology is the study of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of that universe.  Physical cosmology is exploring these questions from a scientific viewpoint, while esoteric or spiritual cosmology concerns itself with the philosophical questions of our place in the universe, the nature of reality beyond its physicality, and understanding and explaining why everything came to be.  The primary source of esoteric/religious cosmology is from our historical, mythological, religious, and esoteric literature, as well as our traditions.

Ancient Cosmology

Anthropologists tell us that in almost all traditional cultures, its religious/esoteric cosmology that gives its members their fundamental sense of where they come from, who they are, and what their purpose is in life’s larger picture.  The stories that they create and share explain their sacred relationship with that universe.

Ancient cosmology started with stories and myths, but soon expanded to include elements of philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. For example, the earliest Greek cosmology myths identified the planets with the Ancient Roman gods Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and found that they were divine enough to influence people’s lives.  The Pythagoreans created a cosmology that included mathematics, music and astronomy.  They described a universe consisting of all the visible heavenly bodies, including the sun, revolving around a central fire invisible to human eyes. However, the Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed that the heavens were literally composed of 55 concentric, crystalline spheres to which the celestial objects were attached and which rotated at different velocities (but the angular velocity was constant for a given sphere), with the Earth at the center.  They also believed that as they moved, they gave forth musical sounds, “the harmony of the spheres.”  The earth being the center of our universe became the predominant cosmological view until the Middle Ages, and ancient religious and societal structures were created based on this view.

As we gained a greater scientific understanding of space, Galileo, Kepler and the other proponents of a heliocentric system introduced a universe that was empty space, vast distances, no center, no purpose, no place for God, and no obvious implications for human behavior.  This resulted in disrupting these ancient religious and societal structures and beliefs, and sometimes in very profound ways.  Blaise Pascal wrote, “engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I am terrified…. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces alarms me.”

Modern Cosmology

Today religion and science seems to be at odds because they present apparently conflicting and opposing views of cosmology in western civilization today:

  • The cosmos is created and ruled by a Distant Patriarch. (View held by most Abrahamic Religions)
  • The cosmos is a Grand Machine. (View held by Science)
  • The cosmos is a manifestation of a spiritual intelligence. (Pantheism, Panentheism)

Contemporary Pagans have generally adopted the third view and see the Divine and the universe as identical (pantheism) or see the Divine as greater than the universe but contained within her (panentheism).  While Pantheism sees everything as sacred and divine, panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.  In either case, Contemporary Pagans view the universe as an expression of the Divine and have created a spirituality based on a sacred journey of discovery and connecting.

Cosmology Myths

Science has made us more knowledgeable of the physical universe and perhaps it has made it harder for us to find value it the cosmology myths of ancients.  Their stories may even appear a bit silly to modern eyes.  But there is still great value in them.  Our cosmology myths are rooted in our culture and provide us a constant reminder of who we are and where we come from.  They help us identify our cultural heritage and allows us to keep that heritage alive.  They illustrate basic paradigms that are intrinsic to that culture; and intrinsic to their aspirations and dreams.  They foster a shared set of perspectives, values, history and creates a connection to one another, to our ancestors, to the natural world surrounding us, and to society.

Because Contemporary Pagans feel that human beings have become tragically disconnected from the natural world and have desacralized nature, we have found great value and truths in these ancient stories and myths.  We often create spiritual practices  based on the ideas expressed in these stories.  We seek to reconnect to Divine’s creations, and thereby connecting to the Divine. By reconnecting to the universe, we learn to interact with it.  We see the cosmology myths allow us to transcend our common lives into a vast universe that fascinates us, inspires us, and enables us to look outside ourselves.  They provide explanations where philosophical or scientific discourse would be incomprehensible.  They give purpose and guidelines for living.  They stimulate our imagination and feelings, where the effect can be more profound and life-changing than that from intellectual comprehension.

For example, some lessons that the Norse cosmogony story in which Odin and his brothers slew Ymir and set about constructing the world from his corpse, might include:

  1. Life comes from Death. Creation never occurs in a vacuum. Destruction of what exists before creation is often necessary.
  2. Flesh and Matter. That the visible world is the organic manifestation of spirit, as opposed to a transcendent Divine.
  3. Creation as ongoing and participatory. All of the inhabitants of the Nine Worlds have some role, some agency, in the creation process, however great or small.

Conclusion

Physical and religious/esoteric cosmology should not be at odds, but have two different but similar roles.  Together they answer the biggest ‘Why’, and hence, they are valuable.   But while physical cosmology provides scientific answers to satisfy our intellectual curiosity, religious/esoteric cosmology enables us to confront our most basic human truths and gives us the opportunity to better understand them, learn from them, and possibly even apply them to our own everyday life.

Contemporary Pagans understand the difference between science and religion, and does not find them in contention.  Where religious/esoteric cosmology does not accurate reflect our physical cosmology, they find that it can still provides us a valid way to look at the world and attain spiritual growth.

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From Chapter 3, Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, by Charles G. Leland, [1899]:

Important Note:  Do not stereotype Lucifer or Diana from a Abrahamic religious viewpoint.

Diana was the first created before all creation; in her were all things; out of herself, the first darkness, she divided herself; into darkness and light she was divided. Lucifer, her brother and son, herself and her other half, was the light.

And when Diana saw that the light was so beautiful, the light which was her other half, her brother Lucifer, she yearned for it with exceeding great desire. Wishing to receive the light again into her darkness, to swallow it up in rapture, in delight, she trembled with desire. This desire was the Dawn.

But Lucifer, the light, fled from her, and would not yield to her wishes; he was the light which files into the most distant parts of heaven, the mouse which flies before the cat.

Then Diana went to the fathers of the Beginning, to the mothers, the spirits who were before the first spirit, and lamented unto them that she could not prevail with Lucifer. And they praised her for her courage, they told her that to rise she must fall; to become the chief of goddesses she must become a mortal.

And in the ages, in the course of time, when the world was made, Diana went on earth, as did Lucifer, who had fallen, and Diana taught magic and sorcery, whence came witches and fairies and goblins–all that is like man, yet not mortal.

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Worshiping the Divine in a Contemporary Pagan Way

Pagan AltarContemporary Pagans see the Divine in many diverse ways. Some see many distinct Gods and Goddesses, some as one or two, some as archetypes, some as within nature, and others as nature itself. By not being tied down by the customs of an established religion or by the dogmas of a revealed one, Pagans interact with the Divine in very creative, individualistic, and even playful ways.

The word “worship” comes from the Old English weordhscipe meaning to honor or give worth to something. Pagan worship is mainly concerned with connection to, and the honoring of, immanent Divine. It is a religion that worships the Divine not by submission or with the view that we are defective and broke, but that we are manifestations of the Divine.   Most importantly, we have sovereignty.

We render honor and respect, not submission, and we retain our sovereignty when dealing with the Gods even if we are not their equals.  To understand sovereignty in its Pagan sense, is to know that we own nothing and no one — not our spouse, not our children, not our world, and not our Gods — nor does anyone or anything own us.  We are the stewards of the things in our possession and the people in our care. We nurture them as a farmer would nurture their crops. Our sovereignty flows from our inherent worth, value and rights.

Rituals is one means by which we communicate with the Divine. We communicate not only with our voice and conscious minds, but through our emotions and the depths of the unconscious mind. We invite the Divine to our rituals.  We prepare our ritual space for our honored guest, we dress up, we set out things to make them feel more welcome, we play their favorite music, we display their favorite colors and items, and we even offer food and drink.  We honor their presence with us  with human hospitality not because we consider them human, but because as humans that is how we can relate to them.  There is a moment that, as good hosts, we acknowledge and thank them for their presence and honor them.

Most rituals tend to be celebratory in nature, especially those associated with the Pagan Wheel of the Year.  During this events, the ritual is not focused on worshiping the Divine, but rather worshiping WITH them.

Most day-to-day Pagan worship is done through reading and retelling their myths, creating altars and shrines, wearing symbols and tokens inspired by them, and acting and living as they would expect us to. We seek to build a relationship. We get to know them.  We make a space for them. We talk and listen to them and heed their counsel. And we thank them when it is appropriate to do so.

But the most important way we worship the Divine is by improving ourselves. Pagan worship is not appeasement, but rather telling our best friend, thank you!

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Mercury Retrograde and Chicken Little

“He knew that all the hazards and perils were now drawing together to a point: the next day would be a day of doom, the day of final effort or disaster, the last gasp.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

 

1I always find it disappointing when I see people warn each other when Mercury is in retrograde, especially with silly Facebook postings.  It is even more depressing when I see people blame things on it.  It seems like the magickal community, at least those that have chosen not to put any depth into their studies, goes into a panic mode during these time as if a cloud of doom is passing by.

WHAT IS RETROGRADE?

If we watch the sun, moon and planets in the sky, they appear to rotate around us from east to west even though we know that they really rotate around the sun.  Because of this illusion, they sometimes appear to slow down, stop, and reverse direction! Every planets exhibits this behavior, and Mercury will exhibit this behavior three or four times a year for about three weeks each time.

SEEING THE DIVINE IN THE PLANETS

Many Contemporary Pagans will look skyward and see the Divine there. The see a cosmic dance on the grand scale that is often summarized using the simplified phrase from the Emerald Tablet “As above, so below.”  Great men have sought to map meaning to these movements in order to better understand the Divine and the physical world around us.

Over time, common attributes and associations were derived based on the individual object, its behavior, and its relationship to other celestial bodies.   In determining their influence on individuals, they are often further mapped to their date of birth.

THE INFLUENCE OF MERCURY

The Romans knew of seven bright objects in the sky: the Sun, the Moon, and the five brightest planets. They named them after their most important gods.  Because Mercury was the fastest planet as it moved around the Sun, it was named after the Roman messenger god Mercury.

The God Mercury was commonly associated with travel and borders, roads, travel, and foreign lands.  He was often petitioned for safety before embarking upon a journey.  He was also associated with trade and commerce, prosperity, abundance, and success; which lead to associations with luck and good fortune.

Even today, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mercury is associated with “communication, travel, contracts, automobiles, and such.” (http://www.almanac.com/content/mercury-retrograde)

THE INFLUENCE OF RETROGRADE

The retrograde behavior of Mercury is often taken to have a negative influence on those things associate to it.  Communications is hampered, travel is disrupted, commerce is disrupted.

But you should never insulate the Mercury retrograde behavior from the influence of all the other bodies.  We all know that life is a sum of many interactions.   Nor should we believe that Mercury Retrograde is the most important influence happening and thereby trumping all other influences.

It is precarious generalizing its effect on all individuals as we are all unique.  Some astrologers believe that those born during a retrograde (which is a significant considering it happens 3-4 times a year) can actually make you immune from its affects and might actually be beneficial.

CONCLUSION

I unfortunately see the panic created by Mercury retrograde as another step toward the dumbing down of Paganism and the aversion of some Pagans to reading anything of substance and their addiction to digital “crap” via social media.  Though I will not argue against personal revelation over careful research, I do believe that you have a personal responsibility to research and apply critical thinking to statements made by others.

So what should you do or not do during Mercury retrograde?  In the end, it may not matter what we believe, but more about how we use those beliefs to influence our daily lives.  If you feel strongly about the influence of Mercury Retrograde on your life, then instead of hunkering down with your hands over your heads, and blaming your misfortune on a tiny planet 48 million miles away, look at it as an opportunity to reconsider and reflect.  Control your life and do not let Mercury control you!  Pay more attention to your writing and speaking skills and consider ways to improve them.  Put more thought into your trips and make them more safe and fun.  And for celestial heaven’s sake, take some personal responsibility!

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I love you, but I do not like you very much right now.

1“We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created.” – Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

One time when my wife and I calmed down from a passionate disagreement (mind you, we are both Cancer’s), and she stated: “Honey, I love you, but I do not like you very much right now.”  Wow!  What a statement.    Love is not a degree of how much we liked each other, but is something much greater than that.  Love transcends even the most heated moments.

Religion can be a divisive tool as it allows one group to be defined and divided from another.  But the reality is that we live in an interconnected world, and as such, we need to learn better ways to interact with each other despite our religious differences.  We are all a giant community now.  We live in a religiously diverse world with examples like Jewish presidential hopeful (Bernie Sanders),  Pentacles and Mjolnir (Thor’s Hammer) being authorized on veteran headstones, and Sikh soldiers in the US Army being authorized to wear dastaars (turbans) and keep their unshorn hair and beards as part of their uniform.  Unfortunately whenever one group can unite against an opposing group, persecution and suffering is often the result.  We see it in the Islamaphobia overtaking the United States, the political battles regarding gay rights or Planned Parenthood, and in the atrocities being committed by ISIL all in the name of religion.

So how do we get along when we have such a variety of different religious beliefs, practices and thoughts?  Even if we do not like each other, how we still interact with one another in love?

First, we must commit to wanting to live together in peace.  I do believe that conflict is a natural part of human nature. The modern world is a collection of conflicting viewpoints and dysfunctional behavior, but we must commit to the idea that getting along is both a noble and practical goal.  That does not mean that we cannot continue to have conflicts, we just must learn to confront them in peaceful and productive ways.  The great irony of conflict is that it is critical to growth.   The key is to learn how to have conflict in a useful and productive manner.

“I refuse to allow any man-made differences to separate me from any other human beings.” – Maya Angelou

Second, we must learn and accept the differences between us.  A lot of fear and angst about other religions is often based on inaccurate assumptions.  When you are educating yourself about other religions, you cannot have a closed mind. You actually need to be really open to learning and you are truly being receptive.  This doesn’t mean you have to convert, and it is acceptable to agree to disagree on some things.

“Now that I am no longer a child, I can see, that God is the God who can see the black and the white and the grey, too, and He dances on the grey! Grey is okay.” ― C. JoyBell C.

Third, embrace the differences between us.  Differences can help you stretch what you think and know.  Consider your own life, and everything that has shaped your beliefs.  Realize that everyone on this planet as their own story.  When you meet anyone, try to imagine, understand, and sympathize with that person’s story.  Challenge yourself to appreciate the differences of others and see them as being able to provide you insights into your own religion.

The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.” ― Eric Berne

Fourth, embrace the similarities between us.  As you find similarities between your religion and others, you will find areas in which you can work together.  Focus on beliefs that you share about God and teachings that are similar in both your religions. You may find out you have more in common than you thought.

“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” – Linda Ellerbee

Fifth, avoid stereotypes.  Don’t allow yourself to define a person based upon one stereotype about one aspect of their complex identity.  Just as most Christians would disagree that the KKK, Fred Phelps, Timothy McVey, or Pat Robertson defines Christianity, avoid making similar leaps when viewing the actions of isolated groups of other religions.

“People are much deeper than stereotypes. That’s the first place our minds go. Then you get to know them and you hear their stories, and you say, ‘I’d have never guessed.” – Carson Kressley

Sixth, clarify your own religious identity. Make sure you understand your own religion.  Defensiveness is often disguised as insecurity.  People quite often become defensive about things they doubt or are unsure of.   Apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia” which means “to give a defense.”  In a general sense, anytime a person is asked to defend a position or a belief in some system, he is asked for an apologetic.  Good apologetics needs to be based on reason, it needs to be knowledgeable, and it needs to be done in a spirit of gentleness and respect.  In addition to strengthening your own faith, learning apologetics can turn what used to be threatening discussions into a desire to speak up and share.

“The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. I would not interfere with any one’s religion, either to strengthen it or to weaken it. I am not able to believe one’s religion can affect his hereafter one way or the other, no matter what that religion may be. But it may easily be a great comfort to him in this life–hence it is a valuable possession to him.”  – Mark Twain, a Biography

Seventh, participate in other religious practices.  Attending the service of other religions doesn’t mean that you are converting, but it does help provide you understanding that could rarely be achieved through just discussion or reading.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Finally, enjoy other faiths.  Each faith has wonderful aspects that can be enjoyed from celebrations to perspectives.  Do not feel guilty if you admire an aspect of another religion.

“Love is the true means by which the world is enjoyed: our love to others, and others love to us.” – Thomas Traherne

We must put aside the idea of “otherness.”  When it comes to any person of faith, we need to realize that we are always talking about “us.”  We have to respect that each individual is different.  We should respect those difference and realize that each of our paths, in their own special and different way, call us to love and to be loving.

“Respect… is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.” – Annie Gottlieb

It is ridiculous that we would miss out on all the ways in which we could benefit from each other, grow from each other and expand our own world view, just because we have different religious beliefs.

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Celebrating the Winter Solstice as a Contemporary Pagan

Reflecting on ChristmasBecause Contemporary Paganism is a new religion that is only just now integrating second generation practitioners, most of us grew up with the same secular images of the holidays that included Christmas trees, reindeer, and, of course, Santa Claus. We may bake gingerbread cookies, sing Christmas carols, decorate the indoors of our houses with holly and evergreens, the outside with lights and inflatable snow globes, and we, of course, exchange presents.

Contemporary Pagans also take this time to celebrate the Winter Solstice, one of the annual cycle of seasonal festivals that we call the Wheel of the Year. The Winter Solstice, which fell on December 21st this year in the Central Time Zone, is recognized by Pagans as a time in which many pre-Christian and modern civilizations celebrated the “rebirth” of the sun and when daylight reversed course and started to get longer. This natural phenomena is a centerpiece of many religious practices and mythologies practiced around the world even today. The common Pagan name used for this sabbat is Yule which was adopted from a pre-Christian festival of the Germanic peoples, though many Contemporary Pagans have chosen to adopt names, practices and mythologies from many other cultures, or even a syncretic mixture of several.

Contemporary Pagans enjoy discovering ancient traditions practiced during this time of the year and incorporating it into their own traditions for a great many reasons. Sometimes it is because they are a lot like heirlooms that strengthen our sense of history and belonging to a particular culture. Other times it might be to embrace the spiritual practices of our forefathers and possibly provide us new perspectives. Often times it is just fun.

Most people today are familiar with many of these ancient practices as they have crept into our mainstream secular holiday practices. These syncretic mixtures of many cultures include wreaths, poinsettias, mistletoe, gift giving, Christmas trees, Yule Logs, and even Santa Claus himself.

As with most sabbats, this is a time in which Contemporary Pagans like to celebrate rituals. There were many rituals celebrated the weeks surrounding the solstice, but I was only able to attend two of them. Both were both more communal than liturgical. At one, the Celtic God and Goddess Cernunnos and Brigid were invoked and we were reminded of the mythology regarding the Holly and Oak King. At another, they mentioned the mythology of the Holly/Oak King also but also introduced Cailleach, the divine hag of Gaelic mythology that is often associated with winter. At both events, I felt challenged to reflect on the messages of these mythologies. Each ritual was followed by potlucks afterwards where we enjoyed each other’s company, and one included a gift exchange.

I also visited the local Unitarian Universalist Church on the Sunday’s before and after the solstice. The Unitarian Universalist Church is an accepting denomination that many Pagans have joined who desire a more congregational approach to their spiritual practices. The first Sunday was a children’s presentation where they enacted a beautiful and reflective play whereby each child discussed how we could become “lights” from different faith perspectives. The Sunday afterwards was equally enlightening as a guest minister, a self-defined Pagan, gave an equally reflective sermon on the UU principles as they pertained to the three ingredients of fire: fuel, oxygen, and spark which was used as metaphors for community, outreach/activism and passion. Again drawing on the symbolism of the increasing daylight.

December 25th was another special day for many Contemporary Pagans this year as it was also a full moon. This rare event will not happen again until 2034. The full moon has long had an aura of mystery and magic about it. Many Pagans and Wiccans choose to celebrate the full moon with a monthly ritual, but because it was so close to a Sabbat, I believe most probably just took this opportunity to enjoy it.

Lastly, my wife and I enjoyed several evenings with our family. As empty nesters with grown children, this was an opportunity to join our other relatives as we feasted and shared presents. Of course the highlights were watching the excitement of the children during these events.

Though a lot of my activity this holiday season consisted of connecting with friends and family in both secular and religious settings, I did take this time to reflect using the spiritual practices that I have adopted as a Pagan who finds inspiration in nature. Winter is a time where time slows down. Snow blankets, covers, warms, and hides the land. The land rests and recovers from the previous growing year. As a time of darkness, it is time for self-examination, warts and all. What is useful? What is not? It is a time to consider my own counsel, my own needs. Inspired by the increasing daylight, what “light” do I want to grow in my own life? What can I do to prepare myself for growth? It is a time to learn from the past, but mostly a time to look forward to the coming Spring. To some, these sound like “new year’s resolutions.” I even read one Pagan calling this “Pagan Lent” referring to how we often choose this time for making auspicious changes. It is another time in the cycle to plot the course of my journey.

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